Jon Erdner has been involved in harness racing for some four decades, and bred horses for nearly as long, but never enjoyed a year like he did in 2021 with Dan Patch Award-winning trotter Jujubee.
The homebred Jujubee entered last season as a lightly raced three-year-old and blossomed into a star with victories that included the Breeders Crown, Kentucky Futurity, Phil Langley Memorial, and Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship. Along the way, he became the first three-year-old male trotter in history to win with two sub-1:50 miles, capturing the Muscle Hill Trot in 1:49.4 at The Meadowlands and the Futurity in 1:49.3 at Lexington’s Red Mile.
For the year, Jujubee won 14 of 18 races, finished worse than second only once, and earned $948,791 to lead all male trotters in purses.
On Saturday, Jujubee will be honoured by the Keystone chapter of the U.S. Harness Writers Association as its 2021 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Horse of the Year. On February 20, he will receive the Dan Patch Award for best three-year-old male trotter, as voted upon by USHWA’s national membership. Trotter of the Year, as well as Pacer of the Year and Horse of the Year, will be announced that night.
“We’re very excited and very proud of him,” Erdner said. “We had a lot of fun last year. It makes it all worthwhile.
“We’ve bred a lot of horses through the years, and you never know how they’re going to turn out. Some are better than others. This one happened to be the best. He is by far the best.”
Erdner got his start in harness racing in western Pennsylvania.
“My brother was racing horses at The Meadows, and I sort of got interested that way,” Erdner said. “It just continued. I really got into, and you know how it is, once you get into it, you want to win, you want to keep going.
“We did the breeding pretty much from the beginning. Our first mare was a Storm Damage mare. When my wife and I were first married, we had three foals every year on the farm where we lived. We did that for a while until the kids came along.”
After taking a break from raising horses to raise children, the Erdners returned to the breeding side of the sport.
“We had some pretty well-bred mares and rather than quit with them and get rid of them, we thought we would breed some more,” Erdner said. “That’s what we did.”
As an owner, Erdner’s top horse prior to Jujubee was female trotter One Tough Lass, who won the Kentucky Filly Futurity in 2008.
“It was a 13-year dry spell in between until Jujubee came along,” said Erdner, a retired investment advisor who several years ago sold his company, which at its peak managed nearly $1.5 billion.
Jujubee, trained by Greg Wright Jr., is a son of stallion Creatine out of the mare La Cantera. Erdner named the horse with the name he uses when he can’t remember a person’s name.
“When I don’t know, or can’t think of a person’s name right away, I’ll say Jujubee,” Erdner said with a laugh. “It’s sort of a general name I had tucked away in my mind and thought I’d use it sometime. And I did.”
Jujubee won two of five races and finished second twice at age two.
“We took our time with him and got him ready to go toward the fall and raced him lightly,” Erdner said. “He showed a lot of ability then. Then he really came on early in his three-year-old year. He proved himself each time he raced, getting better each time. It was fun to watch him develop. Greg worked hard with him and kept him on schedule, did the right things, and it paid off.”
Jujubee’s 1:49.4 score in the Muscle Hill came on Hambletonian Day at The Meadowlands and introduced the trotter to the world.
“That was a real eye-opener, and he just continued from there,” Erdner said. “He just doesn’t want anybody to get past him. He has a heart that wants to win. Very few have it like that, too, so it sure is nice.”
Jujubee was supplemented to both the Kentucky Futurity and Breeders Crown at a total cost of $137,500. The colt had earned $126,500 by winning the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship, so that money covered most of the expense.
“He earned it, so you might as well let him use it,” Erdner said. “It gave him an opportunity to stretch his legs a little bit.”
Jujubee will return to the races this year at age four. He is in Florida preparing for his upcoming campaign.
“He’s had a nice break in North Carolina and now he’s back jogging,” Erdner said. “He sort of likes the routine. We hope he comes back stronger than when he ended the year. I would love to see him break that 1:49 mark. He seems to be able to do what he puts his mind to. Normally, when they come back good, they get better at four and five and really hit their peak.
“We hope Jujubee is one of those.”