Jason Bartlett has come a long way since driving Gerry’s Beauty to a first-place finish at the Windsor Fair in the late summer of 1998.
The Windsor native and former basketball star made the decision to move into big-time harness racing in 2007 at Yonkers Raceway. Bartlett, 32, recently posted his 5,000th career victory behind Box Car Johnnie at the New York track. He was typically low key about reaching a milestone few drivers have achieved.
“To tell you the truth I don’t even look at my numbers,” he said. “Purses I’ve won kind of matters.”
He has won nearly $54 million in purses in his career, approximately $50 million since arriving at Yonkers. He recorded one of his biggest paydays this year when he won the Messenger Stakes with its purse of $530,000. Drivers are generally awarded five percent of the purse.
Bartlett, who won three track championships at Yonkers from 2008-10, finished third this season with winnings totaling $7.7 million, which placed him ninth in the country. He’s had to bear down more than ever since arriving at Yonkers because there are more good drivers there than when he arrived, including Brian Sears and George Brennan, two of the top five in the country.
In winning his 5,000th race, Bartlett topped Brennan and odds-on favorite Pembroke Alec Bush by a length and a half in 1 minute, 53 seconds. Bartlett’s horse was trained by Alicia Gray, wife of driver and trainer Shawn Gray.
“It was kind of neat I got my 5,000th (on their horse) since they’re both from Maine,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett grew up around horses in Windsor at the barn of his grandfather, Dick Bartlett. Jason’s athletic ability would show up on the track, but first manifested itself on the basketball court at Erskine Academy and later at the Southern Maine Community College.
“He’s very athletic,” Dick Bartlett said. “He always was kind of a natural.”
The elder Bartlett said his grandson thinks races out in advance and while they’re happening instead of just going out there and driving.
“Jason tends to business pretty good,” Dick said. “He takes it seriously.”
Bartlett, who has twice been selected for the World Driving Championships, races five days a week at Yonkers and at least one other day at Pocono Raceway. He and his wife Kristen and sons Kobe and Karter live in Goshen, N.Y., about an hour’s drive from Yonkers.
He’s owned and trained horses in the past but has no immediate plans to give up driving.
“I still love it,” he said. “I make a living out of something I love.”