by Chris Lomon
Jason Bertolini had plenty to talk about, but his preference, as always, is to leave that up to the pacers and trotters.
Although he’s much younger than a vast majority of his contemporaries, that’s certainly not how the 24-year-old presents himself.
So, when he recorded his first driving win Bertolini took the moment in stride.
That’s not to say, however, he wasn’t grateful for elated to net the ‘W.’
“It was such a great feeling,” said Bertolini. “You always imagine what it will be like, and when it does happen, it’s even better than you thought it would be.”
The victory was even more rewarding considering the horse he was in rein to happened to be his very own.
After some tough-luck results with Led Schneppelin, the third time proved to be the charm for the driver and the 10-year-old son of Memphis Flash on Nov. 26 at First Tracks Cumberland in Maine.
Sent on his way at 9-2, Led Schneppelin was taken to the front by Bertolini, carving out an opening panel in :28.1, then leading the field through a half-mile clip in :59.4.
From there, the pair braced for any late challenges, but didn’t need to, crossing the line 2 ¾-lengths ahead of their nearest rival, stopping the teletimer in 1:59.0.
“The trip worked out just the way I wanted it. The first race together, I had him on the front and I kind of went a little too quick, and we didn’t come home as strong as I wanted to. We just got beat. The next week, I got interfered with, but we still finished third. The horse, to me, he’s unbelievable. I could see him getting stronger and I had a lot of confidence in him. I put him back on the front in our third race and by the five-eighths, he was still strong, and this time, I didn’t want to get to the three-quarters as fast as the first time, and we were able to do that. He took right off from there and it went perfectly. I was really happy with him.”
Led Schneppelin paid $11 for the win.
It was the 83rd start for Bertolini, who arrived at the dash with five seconds and 14 third-place finishes on his stat line.
If he had been down on himself heading into his winning drive, he certainly wasn’t showing it.
“It was nice to get it done and it was nice to do it with this horse. I had always liked him. Really, I was looking for something to drive in the amateurs. And things just kind of took off when we started working together. To be able to drive a horse like that, and to own it, that’s really great.”
Bertolini, the eldest of five siblings, was happy his phone was fully charged.
“My phone didn’t stop blowing up all night. It was awesome.”
With his initial driving triumph out of the way, Bertolini will now turn his attention to other goals.
Six years into his standardbred career, he has plenty of people in his corner.
After graduating high school in Maine, Bertolini worked in the stable of Aaron and Ryan Hall in 2015. For the past five years or so, he has been driving around the Maine fairs for the last five years.
He also has high praise for his mother, Kirsi Bertolini.
“I don’t think anything for granted. I give a lot of credit to my mom, and also to Aaron for putting me down on horses. The horses might be longshots, but they give me the experience that I need and that helped me get where I am to today. It’s been great, but I still have a lot that I want to achieve.”
Goals are many for the trainer/driver.
He’s hoping to start checking a few off his list.
“I’d like to drive a little bit more next year. I like the training aspect of the sport. My long-term goal is to take what I learn each day and use all of that to become better at what I do. I’d like to get more horses that I can train and work with them to be competitive whenever and wherever they race. If I could start picking up other drives in the amateurs, that would be great. The biggest thing at this point is to stay humble and try to get as many wins and good results as I can.”
Bertolini is both optimistic and realistic in his view of racing.
“There will be downs than ups in this game. You never know what the horse will do once you line up behind that gate. You always have a certain perspective on how they are going to do, but anything can happen. I just want to stay humble and let the horses do the talking. You don’t have to say anything. People see what you do and hopefully they see that you are working hard, learning every day, and wanting to get better.”
When he’s not in the sulky or at the barn, Bertolini, when time permits, likes to indulge in a popular winter pastime.
Taking his mind off racing, albeit for just a while, is a welcome respite.
“To unwind, I like to go skiing. Some winters, I go help Jamie Gerard train. He’s in Maine, but he goes out and races at The Meadowlands and Freehold. I like hunting and fishing, too. I like going smelt fishing in the winter, which is a lot of fun.”
Not quite as rewarding, however, as reeling in a win on the racetrack.
Bertolini said he is hoping that 2022 holds more of those moments.
“I’m just really happy. I have a horse I co-own, Real Sancho, with Craig Hall, and he’s been doing pretty good for us. I haven’t been driving him, but it’s been really great to be part of that too.”
He’s also managed to bring a new racing fan into the fold, someone who paddocked Led Schneppelin ahead of the momentous victory.
And that, at least on this occasion, is certainly worth talking about.
“One of the best parts of all this is that my girlfriend, Ronni Owens, is really getting into harness racing now. She does the barrel racing, but she always wanted to get into the standardbreds. All I can say that life is good, and I feel very lucky to have so many good people around me.”