Day At The Track

Indiana champion enjoys banner year

05:55 PM 04 Dec 2015 NZDT
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Bridge To Jesse
Bridge To Jesse

Louisville, KY --- On a bone-chilling blustery evening at Hoosier Park, few harness racing fans were willing to brave the bracing air as Bridge To Jesse’s powered home to cap off an outstanding season on Oct. 10. Rather than discussing his dominance, however, his connections and track personnel were concerned with how he would behave in the winner’s circle. This mild-mannered gelding that aims to please, is a pleasure to paddock and a dream to drive, has developed the habit of bucking like a bronco when it is time to have his picture taken.

“I had to start holding him towards the end of the year,” said Roger Welch, his conditioner and co-owner. “He did get better about it. He was like a kid. You could see it in his eyes and he was just trying to get away with something. When I held him though he knew he had to cut it out because it was like, ‘Uh oh, Dad is here now. I can’t do that kind of thing now.’”

A son of Jailhouse Jesse and the Angus Hall mare Bridge To Nowhere, Bridge To Jesse’s was purchased for $28,000 by Wisconsin Hall of Famer William ‘Bo’ DeLong, his son Pat, his brother Ray and Welch at last year’s Indiana Premier Yearling Sale.

Welch was not immediately sold on him, but Bo’s enthusiasm and his wife Amy’s opinion swayed him to convince himself and Pat the yearling was worth putting up the cash for. The gelding has proven those emotions to be spot on as he has collected more than $309,000 in purse money, compiled a record of 12-10-1-0, set a track standard of 1:56 and is a state champion.

There was also another reason Welch felt the horse possessed potential.

“Besides Bo really liking him and Amy falling in love with him the moment she laid eyes on him, ‘Jesse’ was bred by (Wilt Standardbreds),” he said. “The Wilts (Michael and Randy) do a tremendous job breeding and raising their horses at their farm down in Missouri. In fact, the horse that finished second in the final, Late Bid Tom, is turned out with him right now. They were foaled together, grew up together and finished one-two in the biggest race in their division. That speaks volumes for what the Wilts do.”

After finishing fourth in his debut on June 23 in an Indiana Sire Stakes elimination, Bridge To Jesse’s showed the world what he was made of by annihilating his competition in the $25,000 consolation the following week. The gelding continued to hit the line ahead of all his colleagues for nine straight races, all over the Anderson oval, before finishing second in a $14,375 Indiana sired event on Sept. 30.

“He really was not tight for that race,” Welch said. “We gave him some time off to get ready for the final. That was the goal and he went out there and did exactly what we expected of him. Actually, I think his last start was his best. When we started with him we just wanted to teach him how to race and let him come along at his own pace. As the year went on he continued to get stronger with each start. That is exactly what you want to see in a horse. I was very impressed with his race in the final.”

Piloted by Ed Hensley for his first nine trips to the gate, Bridge To Jesse’s trotted to his track record on Aug. 15 and after three more pari-mutuel excursions, the lines were relinquished to John DeLong.

“Ed went to Florida and I knew John would be an excellent fit for the horse,” Welch said. “Not only is he Bo’s nephew and Pat’s cousin, he has driven for me a number of years. He knew what to do with him and they get along really well.”

With DeLong guiding the way, Bridge To Jesse’s stopped the clock in 1:56.2, 1:57.1 and 1:56.1.

“He is such an easy horse to drive,” Welch said. “I’m also very proud of him trotting consistently right around (1):56 as a 2-year-old.

“He does wear hobbles, but that’s only because he tends to get a bit rambunctious when he goes to the gate. He is perfectly gaited, but those are kind of like insurance just to make sure nothing goes wrong.

“That extra energy comes from his gaining more confidence with every race. It is as if every time he races he becomes a bit more full of himself at the start. He knows he is winning and he enjoys every moment of it.”

After his vacation has ended, Bridge To Jesse’s will return to Hoosier Park for his sophomore year to defend his crown. Welch sees no reason to venture outside state lines when such a trip could conflict with the gelding’s Sire Stakes engagements.

“I am based in Illinois but when Balmoral closes shortly it appears there is no future here,” he said. “Amy and I have been looking for a house and farm in Indiana. We just have not found the right place yet.

“Jesse was eligible to other races this year, but we decided it was better to just keep him on his Indiana schedule. With how some of the racing dates are set up it’s hard to take them somewhere else because of how everything is timed.

“We are just looking forward to bringing him back next year and watching what he accomplishes. Hopefully he will be just as good, if not better.”

by Kimberly French, USTA Web Newsroom Senior Correspondent 

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