Racing Reflections is an occasional USTA newsroom series recounting favorite memories of harness racing participants and their careers in the sport.
Hightstown, NJ — When he was quite young, it wasn’t enough for Jordan Stratton to spend his waking hours around horses, or with his father, trainer David Stratton.
“My parents told me the only way they could get me to nap was by being on the jog cart with my dad, counting laps,” Stratton said, adding with a laugh, “By the second lap, I was lights-out.”
Stratton’s early exposure to harness racing and enjoyment in the sport meant lights-out on any other choice of profession.
“Me and my brother (Cory) have been jogging and training our whole lives,” Stratton said. “That was the only (career) track in life. As much as they say don’t follow in my footsteps, go to college, do something else, it’s hard when you get the harness racing bug early on.”
Stratton grew up in Ohio, where his family had a 30-acre farm. By the age of 14, Stratton was taking care of horses for his father on a full-time basis, including a future two-time Ohio Sire Stakes champion, pacer Noble Cam.
“He was the first really good horse I took care of,” Stratton said. “I remember sitting on a bucket his whole 2- and 3-year-old years in the sire stakes, going on the road with him. He came out (east) and competed with the top horses a little bit, but just wasn’t up to it on a national level. But in Ohio he was a really good horse. He was a great horse to learn on.”
Noble Cam earned $505,021 lifetime and Stratton ended up driving the horse to his final six victories in a 32-win career.
Several weeks prior to his 19th birthday, and two months before sitting behind Noble Cam for the first time in a race, Stratton notched his first career win with a pacer named Meditator at Monticello Raceway.
“My dad bought him cheap for me to race in the amateurs,” Stratton said. “He made a really big run up the backside, and I came second or third over and swooped the field.
“I had a white helmet, my dad’s boots, my dad’s colors, no gloves; it was a mess,” he continued, with a laugh. “But it’s a fond memory. I started just warming up at Monticello, so everyone kind of knew who I was. It was fun to get a win. It was really thrilling.”
The thrills have continued over the years. In 2008, he became, at the age of 21, the youngest driver to win a driving title at Monticello. In 2009, still at the age of 21, he became the second driver in history to reach 1,000 wins prior to his 22nd birthday and received the Rising Star Award from the U.S. Harness Writers Association.
Today, Stratton has won 4,415 races and $74 million in purses. He entered Tuesday as the leading driver at Yonkers Raceway this season. He has finished no worse than third in the standings at The Hilltop in each of the past four years.
Last year’s highlights included driving on the Grand Circuit with pacer Manticore and trotter Crystal Fashion. Stratton made his first appearance in the Breeders Crown and finished second in the Open Trot with Crystal Fashion. He was eighth with Manticore in the final for 3-year-old male pacers, beaten only two lengths in a blanket finish.
“It was a lot of fun to go on the road with them,” Stratton said. “To finish second in the Breeders Crown from (post eight) was a thrill.”
Among Stratton’s other career highlights is his association with pacer Bit Of A Legend N, who won 33 of 99 races in North America and $1.90 million. In 2016, the stallion became the first — and still only — horse to sweep the six-week George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series (now the Borgata Pacing Series) at Yonkers.
This year’s series begins March 15.
“I really like that series,” Stratton said. “The way the points schedule is, you kind of have to start every race because you get 25 points just for showing up. It really narrows it down to the toughest horse at the end.
“What Bit Of A Legend did was unbelievable, to win every leg and then the final. He was unbelievable. He did everything right.”