Loving The Stakes-Horse Ride

Published: May 26, 2016 01:52 pm EDT

When horse owner Bill Dittmar Jr. visited the winner’s circle with Anders Bluestone following the 2011 Maxie Lee Memorial Invitational, it seemed like the moment of a lifetime.

On Sunday afternoon, he will return to the same event at Harrah’s Philadelphia with what seems like the horse of a lifetime.

Dittmar is among the owners of JL Cruze, who last year won 16 of 21 races, set numerous world records, and received a Dan Patch Award as harness racing’s best older male trotter.

JL Cruze is part of a star-packed 2016 edition of the $200,000 Maxie Lee Memorial Invitational for older trotters. The field includes 2013 U.S. Horse of the Year Bee A Magician and 2014 U.S. Trotter of the Year Shake It Cerry. Bee A Magician, unbeaten in three races this year, is the 5-2 morning line favourite. JL Cruze, with four wins in five starts this season, is the 7-2 second choice.

“When we won with Anders Bluestone a few years ago that was really a highlight with our horses at that time,” Dittmar said. “That was fun.

“It would be nice to be competitive again. We’ve always been a group with (non-stakes) horses. When you get a stakes horse, it’s exciting. It really is. We’re a small stable and you find the diamond in the rough once in a while and try to have some fun with it.”

Sunday’s Philly card also includes the $200,000 Betsy Ross Invitational for older female pacers and the $200,000 Dorothy Mullin Invitational for older male pacers.

Delaware-based Wiggle It Jiggleit, the 2015 U.S. Horse of the Year, is the 2-1 morning line favourite in the Mullin Invitational. He has won five of eight races this year and has finished no worse than second in any start. He heads to Sunday’s festivities off a track-record performance in the Battle of Lake Erie last weekend at Northfield Park.

Rockin Ron, who established a Canadian record in defeating Wiggle It Jiggleit in the Confederation Cup earlier this month, and New Zealand-bred Levy Memorial Pacing Series champion Bit Of A Legend are also among the Mullin’s eight starters.

Multiple-stakes-winner Devil Child is the 5-2 morning line choice in the Betsy Ross, which also includes 2015 Breeders Crown champion Colors A Virgin and this year’s Blue Chip Matchmaker Series winner Yagonnakissmeornot.

First-race post time is 12:40 p.m. Sunday. The Betsy Ross, scheduled for approximately 3:40 p.m., is the first of the three invitationals, which will be raced consecutively.

JL Cruze is owned by Dittmar, Stephen Iaquinta and Ken Wood. Some of JL Cruze’s $627,456 in earnings last year went to help dig wells in Ghana and Tanzania and bring clean drinking water to 50,000 people as part of a longtime humanitarian effort spearheaded by Wood.

A five-year-old gelding, JL Cruze was purchased by his current owners for $37,000 in November 2014. They hoped he would be a nice fit at Dover Downs, where the group races frequently, but the horse blossomed with trainer Eric Ell last winter and then stormed to three consecutive stakes-level world-record wins during the summer before being sidelined by a virus.

JL Cruze returned this season with three consecutive victories in open handicaps, but then finished off the board in the $150,000 Mack Lobell Elitlopp Playoff on May 8 at the Meadowlands. He bounced back with a non-stakes win at Harrah’s Philadelphia on May 19 in his first-ever race at the track.

“We were disappointed with his performance in the Elitlopp Playoff,” Dittmar said. “He just wasn’t feeling right. I hate making excuses for horses, but things happen. We all thought he was sitting on a good race going into it. It just wasn’t his day.

“Coming off his performance there and then racing for the first time at Philly, it was good to see him get around the turns there and come out of it in good shape. It should be fun Sunday.”

$200,000 Betsy Ross Invitational
(PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line Odds)
1-Yagonnakissmeornot-Daniel Dube-Rene Allard-7-1
2-Sassa Hanover-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke-10-1
3-Venus Delight-Tim Tetrick-Jeffrey Bamond Jr.-7-2
4-Devil Child-Brian Sears-Chris Oakes-5-2
5-Katie Said-Brett Miller-Jimmy Takter-6-1
6-Waasmula-Trevor Henry-Bruce Goit-20-1
7-Sell A Bit N-Jordan Stratton-Peter Tritton-15-1
8-Color’s A Virgin-David Miller-Brian Brown-4-1

$200,000 Maxie Lee Memorial Invitational
(PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line Odds)
1-Obrigado-Mark MacDonald-Paul Kelley-5-1
2-Wind Of The North-George Napolitano Jr.-Daryl Bier-12-1
3-Gural Hanover-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke-20-1
4-JL Cruze-Corey Callahan-Eric Ell-7-2
5-Il Sogno Dream-Scott Zeron-Chris Beaver-7-1
6-Shake It Cerry-David Miller-Jimmy Takter-5-1
7-Bee A Magician-Brian Sears-R. Nifty Norman-5-2
8-Maestro Blue Chip-Tim Tetrick-JoAnn Looney-King-8-1

$200,000 Dorothy Mullin Invitational
(PP-Horse-Driver-Trainer-Morning Line Odds)
1-JK Endofanera-David Miller-Jimmy Takter-20-1
2-Wiggle It Jiggleit-Montrell Teague-Clyde Francis-2-1
3-Rockin Ron-Matt Kakaley-Ron Burke-6-1
4-Rockeyed Optimist-Brett Miller-Steve Elliott-12-1
5-Mach It So-Tim Tetrick-Jeffrey Bamond Jr.-9-2
6-Mel Mara-Corey Callahan-Dylan Davis-10-1
7-Luck Be Withyou-George Napolitano Jr.-Chris Oakes-9-2
8-Bit Of A Legend N-Jordan Stratton-Peter Tritton-6-1

This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.