Trainers Discuss Hot Horses

JL Cruze’s trainer Eric Ell and Rockeyed Optimist’s conditioner Steve Elliot have both commented on their charges leading up to the finals of the Shiaway St. Pat and the Clyde Hirt Saturday night (March 28) at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

JL Cruze (coupled with Razor Ramone) has been installed as the 2-5 morning line favourite in the $59,800 final of the Shiaway St. Pat, while Rockeyed Optimist has been pegged as the heavy 1-5 morning line choice in the $59,000 final of the Clyde Hirt. Both are poised to sweep their respective series.

For JL Cruze, to say he has exceeded his trainer, Eric Ell’s expectations, would be an understatement. Originally a $30,000 Harrisburg yearling purchase, JL Cruze went back through the Harrisburg sales ring this past fall at the mixed sale. In hindsight, the final price this time, $32,000, can be considered a bargain.

“I can say now that he has surprised us,” said Ell. “When we nominated him to this winter series (at the Meadowlands) we didn’t know if he could go with those. Looking back, I guess I wish we would have staked him more for the rest of the season. But when he came to us, there was no way to know he would be this good.”

As far as this Saturday goes, Ell is expecting another big effort from JL Cruze. “He has had a great week. He has shown a hitch in his giddy-up at times, so we backed off him a bit and he responded. He has been jogging well and is ready to go.”

After Saturday, the plan is to send his gelding to Pocono for the last two legs of the Bobby Weiss Series. “We missed the first two weeks of the Weiss, but hopefully he can do the job in the last two legs and make the final.”

The immediate future is more clear than the long-term plans for JL Cruze. “After the Weiss, we’ll definitely point him to the Graduate Series and when the Meadowlands re-opens in the fall maybe we will find something there. He isn’t staked too much, but next year will be different.”

Ironically, the connections of Rockeyed Optimist find themselves in a very similar position as Eric Ell, but are happy with the game plan they have mapped out as well.

“[Rockeyed Optimist] just keeps getting better,” said trainer Steve Elliot. “With each start he just seems to be more within himself. He’s been a pleasure, just a really nice horse.”

Elliot is not sure why he wasn’t more popular went he went through the sales ring as a yearling.

“I’m not sure why he didn’t sell. At the time everyone was down on Jersey-breds, so maybe that was it. When we first got him he would just sulk in the corner of his stall. We thought he bled, so we put him on Lasix and he went backwards. So we took him off it and turned him out. When we brought him back he was a totally different horse. He’s healthier and happier.”

The long-term future plans for Rockeyed Optimist are still a bit up in the air, but Elliot has no problem with that.

“The owners told me to map out a schedule as if I owned the horse, which is just great. They didn’t pressure me to stake him into races where he would be going up against gorillas. We’ve been able to manage him well. He’ll go to the Graduate Series and then from there we’ll see. I wasn’t sure if he could go with the Free-For-All types until last week when he paced in 1:48.3. That means he is almost right at that level speed-wise already. He isn’t staked much this year, but we’ll have a fresh horse as a five-year-old and as long as he keeps progressing, we’ll give him the opportunity to be a Free For All pacer next year.”

The Clyde Hirt and Shiaway St. Pat headline the Saturday card at the Meadowlands. First-race post time is 7:15 p.m.

(With files from the Meadowlands)

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