At the conclusion of the 2009 season, young reinsman Jordan Derue took home the Johnny Page Award, an honor bestowed to the top breakthrough driver at Saratoga Casino Hotel that year. Derue was just 19 years old when he was named the track’s top up-and-comer in the sulky. The list of Johnny Page Award winners at Saratoga is a blend of drivers who wound up panning out, becoming top-flight pilots at the track and others who never emerged as steady forces in the bike following their breakout season. For Derue, it seemed a little bit different. A Canadian born youngster who has grown up around horses and came to the Spa as a teenager as a groom in the backstretch, Derue had the look of someone who wasn’t your average youthful driver who would come and go. His immediate success appeared to be the kind that indicated he was very likely put together a solid career as a reinsman. What we didn’t know back in ’09 is what kind of trainer Jordan would become and how much success he would have as an all-around horseman.
Derue followed up his solid rookie campaign with a tremendous 2010 in which he drove 86 winners and piled up 35 training victories. After a couple of down seasons, Jordan had a big year in 2013 as he enjoyed his first three-figure win campaign as a driver while having 52 winners as a conditioner as he trained to a terrific average of .317. That year served as a precursor to a 2014 season in which Derue went on such an incredible run that he wound up being named Horseman of the Year at Saratoga at the age of just 24. The feat was a testament to his overall success as a horseman as he became a very rare winner of the local award to not be the leading driver or trainer at the track that season. In 2014, Derue drove 128 winners, a number that still remains his career high and saw his trainees make 97 trips to the winner’s circle at the various tracks at which the Canadian native competed. His overall training average of .349 that season was by far the best of his career. That is until 2020 came around.
While this year has been like any other in the world including in the sport of harness racing, it has been one for Derue that is eye-popping. Training off of a local farm, Derue always brings members of his stable to compete at several tracks in the Northeast. This year though, Jordan has focused his efforts mainly on his home track of Saratoga and he has seen simply tremendous results in this abbreviated season. Off to a big start prior to the pandemic shutdown, Derue has come back in full force since the unexpected layoff. Catch-driving a bit more this year than in seasons past, Jordan has done well while piloting for members of several stables such those of Kyle Spagnola, Jaymes McAssey, Jordan’s brother Brett and his father-in-law Tony Ciuffetelli. And while he has done well as a catch-driver, the majority of the inflated numbers that Derue has posted in 2020 have come while piloting horses that he trains and in many cases, those that he owns as well.
Derue acquired young trotter Gemologist last year and while he came to the Spa with decent credentials, the then four year old’s stats certainly didn’t jump off the page at you. After climbing the class ladder, Gemologist wound up racing in the Open Trot at the Spa in the final two weeks of the ’19 season. Following an unsuccessful stint at the Meadowlands to kick off this year, Gemologist returned to the Spa in March where he scored two wins and a second place finish in three starts before vaulting up into Open company once again. On June 28th, Derue pointed Gemologist out to the front end as the race’s 6-5 betting favorite in the Open Trot and the five year old went the distance, stopping the timer in 1:56.4 to record his first career win in the feature. The rising star finished second in his following start in the Open before coming up fourth best last Monday (July 20) afternoon.
Though Derue didn’t find his way to the winner’s circle behind Gemologist on Monday, he did make three trips there with three other trotters on the afternoon. Jordan catch-drove veteran high-stepper Tropical Storm Bi to a mild upset score for his father-in-law Tony Ciuffetelli before guiding two horses that he owns to wins. Celebrity Stallone prevailed for the second time in three local starts since moving to Derue’s stable while a trotter who could well wind up replacing Gemologist as Jordan’s Open Trotter moving forward continued his recent surge. Derue acquired Cordoba Hall midway through last season and enjoyed a fair amount of success with him. Following a second-place finish in his first post-covid shutdown start, Cordoba Hall sprung a big upset on July 12 when Jordan aggressively powered the five year old out to the early lead and never looked back. Cordoba Hall scored in 1:58 and did so while dismissed at odds of 28-1. The up-and-coming trotter completed a hat trick for Derue last Monday when he powered away from his rivals to win by five lengths in 1:57.1 while appearing to have plenty left in the tank. Derue-trained trotters J S Peyton, Stealing and E R Skywalker have also all recorded victories since the return from the break and he even wrapped up his week with an upset win behind a pacer making her local debut. Eden Paige N scored in the Tuesday finale for Derue at odds of 12-1 to help Jordan amass a training average at Saratoga of .439 heading into this week’s action, an unheard of number even considering the smaller quantity of starts in ’20 thus far. With a driving percentage of close to .400 on the campaign, Derue could well be putting together a resume to be the Horseman of the Year at the track again this season, six years after the first time he earned that honor and eleven years since he was recognized as the track’s top up-and-coming driver. A decade later, it sure looks like the voters in 2009 got it right in regards to the budding future of Jordan Derue who now at the age of 30 is having a phenomenal season at the Spa displaying top-flight overall horsemanship.
Live racing takes place this summer every Monday and Tuesday afternoon at Saratoga starting at noon and on Wednesday evening beginning at 7:15pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!