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An Electric Ride With Trotter Of The Year Jujubee

USTA/Mark Hall

Caretaker Mike Tabasco, trainer Greg Wright Jr. and Jujubee in
the winner’s circle after the colt’s 2021 Breeders Crown triumph.

(Courtesy of USTA Media Relations)

Hightstown, NJ — It’s not unusual for music to be part of an athlete’s daily training routine.

Even when the athlete is a horse.

In this case, the 2021 Trotter of the Year, Jujubee.

“He loves hard rock,” Jujubee’s caretaker Mike Tabasco said. “We play (Ted) Nugent for him, Frank Marino, Van Halen, Scorpions, AC/DC, Deep Purple. He just loves it.

“That’s the music I listen to. I like the early ’70s and ’80s. It keeps me going. I enjoy my day. We get it done.”

Tabasco then continued with a laugh, “I think Juju loves it anyway. He doesn’t complain, that’s for sure.”

Who would complain? The results rocked.

Jujubee, trained by Greg Wright Jr. for breeder-owner Jon Erdner, was the sport’s top money-earning male trotter last year with $948,791. He finished no worse than second in 17 of 18 races, winning 14. His victories included the Breeders Crown, Kentucky Futurity, Pennsylvania Sire Stakes final, and Phil Langley Memorial.

The colt captured the Futurity in 1:49.3 and the Muscle Hill Trot in 1:49.4 to become the first 3-year-old male trotter with two sub-1:50 winning miles.

“It’s been amazing,” Tabasco said. “The ride of a lifetime. I’m just glad to be part of it. It’s a dream come true.”

Tabasco was 15 when The Meadowlands Racetrack opened in 1976 just miles from his home in northern New Jersey. He developed an interest in harness racing, which blossomed into a passion. An electrician by trade, Tabasco soon began working with horses on a part-time basis, first as a groom and later as a trainer.

“I never had a lot of horses, just a couple for me, just to satisfy the need,” Tabasco said. “It was a great experience to train my own horse and compete at The Meadowlands. That was a thrill.”

Tabasco moved to Ohio several years ago and met Wright while racing at The Meadows. Wright needed help and Tabasco stepped in. Never did he imagine the decision would bring him back to The Meadowlands last year for two of the biggest days of the season. The first came last August when Jujubee won the Muscle Hill Trot on Hambletonian Day. The second came in October when Jujubee won the Breeders Crown.

Jujubee’s 1:49.4 victory in the Muscle Hill set the track record for a 3-year-old male trotter.

“He did it in such a great performance,” Tabasco said. “I know everybody at The Meadowlands because I raced at The Meadowlands, and they were all clapping and congratulating us. It was just a great experience.”

Jujubee’s progression from a lightly raced 2-year-old to Trotter of the Year was a credit to Wright and the horse, Tabasco said.

“Greg did a great job with him,” Tabasco said. “It wasn’t like let me just turn the key and we’re going to be world champion. There were some things he did along the way, some shoeing changes, some equipment, it all depended.

“And Juju is such an intelligent horse. He’s always in a good mood and he loves his work. He’s very professional when it comes to racing. He knows it’s race day. He knows what’s going on. Once he knew what it was all about, he just thrived on it. The horse has a will to win, that’s just how it is for him.”

Wright said he was happy Tabasco was along for the journey.

“This past year traveling with Jujubee has enabled Mike to reconnect with many old friends on the horse circuit as well as make new friends with his charismatic personality,” Wright said. “Mike’s level of confidence and excitement every time Jujubee went to the gate was exhilarating. Jujubee’s performances late in the season are a testament to the level of devotion, dependability and faithfulness Mike has for harness racing.

“Mike and I have naturally become great friends, I am truly blessed to have such a hardworking, dedicated and loyal caretaker on my team. The memories Mike and I have made are endless.”

Jujubee is in Florida preparing to return for his 4-year-old season. Tabasco is with him, ready for the campaign ahead.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Tabasco said. “I can’t wait. I think he got bigger, stronger. He knows he’s a champ. That’s how I feel. He just does. He looks good.

“It’s been a ride, and I want another ride this year. I’m going to do my part, Greg is going to do his part, and I know Juju is going to do his part.”

Rock on.

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