Veteran driver Bruce Aldrich Jr. has been a dominant force in the sulky for better than two decades. The New England-raised Aldrich began driving in the mid 80’s but paused his career for awhile before taking off full force around the turn of the century. Raised in a harness racing family, the sport is simply in his blood. Aldrich wound up setting up shop at Monticello Raceway and dominated the driving ranks there for more than a decade. Bruce would occasionally race here at Saratoga before deciding to a make a full go of it early in the 2010’s when he began doing what he did for several years. Bruce would navigate his way up and down the Thruway, competing at Monticello during the day and the Spa at night. Aldrich started winning at such an impressive clip that he wound up being one of North America’s winningest drivers, finishing in the top ten in wins by a driver almost every year for a period of time during the 10’s.
All of his successes reached their apex when in 2015, Aldrich did what very few drivers in harness racing history have done. In his historic campaign, Bruce won the driving title at TWO “year round” tracks in the same season. An extremely rare feat, Bruce was the leading driver during the day at Monty and at night at Saratoga where he won his first local championship, something that Bruce called a dream come true. “Every since my family came here to race in the 80’s, I always wanted to be leading driver at Saratoga. It was a goal of mine for a long, long time. To be able to accomplish that was extremely gratifying,” the veteran reinsman told me. In a year in which he won 663 races, Aldrich earned over $3.3 million in purses. It was the third consecutive season in which Bruce made over 600 trips to the winner’s circle. In 2017, Aldrich recorded his 7,000th career victory on a matinee card at Monticello, a number that very few ever reach in their career. And he achieved all that before reaching the age of 50!
Doing double duty at both tracks is something that isn’t done too often by a driver, though it occurs more and more these days, and one can certainly understand why. It has to be incredibly wearing on a person not only physically to be spending both days and nights in a sulky but mentally as well. The traveling has to take its toll and to be mentally fresh enough to know all of the horses not only that you are driving but even the others in the races as well has to be a taxing process and one that eventually has tire out even the most passionate and dedicated horseman.
Following a slightly down 2018 campaign, Aldrich is in the midst of the least successful year he has had in about fifteen years. Make no mistake, Bruce has still assembled a win total this year that most drivers would love to accrue but by his standards, 2019 has not been a great one for a guy who has won anywhere from 400 to 700 races each year since 2010. Even in a “down” year for Aldrich, he currently sits fourth in the Monticello driver standings and seventh at Saratoga for wins on the season. This year it just hasn’t been the same here at the Spa for Bruce. He endured a somewhat lengthy cold streak, which can be caused by a combination of several things, not the least of which being the stable that he has piloted the most winners for in the last several years has not been racing many of their horses locally in ’19. Trainer Jose Godinez has finished in the top five in the trainer standings at the Spa almost every season recently but the out-of-town conditioner has focused more attention on other tracks this year rather than Saratoga. Just like in any other sport, when an athlete goes through a difficult stretch, it can definitely get to them. This is especially true for someone like Aldrich who is such a fierce competitor.
When I talked to Bruce about what kept him going throughout the vigorous travel schedule all those years, his answer was simple. “Winning. I just love to win. I love to compete. Even after all these years of doing it, when I lose my head is down. I love to win,” Aldrich told me. Though not winning as much this season has seemed to get to him, he always knew he wouldn’t keep up the two-track schedule forever. It is just too taxing for all of the reasons mentioned earlier. Also, while being a top-flight driver can be lucrative from a financial standpoint, it is something that you have to love in order to do in a full-time capacity. Two weeks ago, Aldrich made the decision to cut back to one track and that is going to be his main track of the last couple of decades, Monticello Raceway. He has headed home.
Bruce Aldrich Jr. is what the sport of harness racing is supposed to be. Though my interactions with him have been just occasional throughout his years here, Bruce has always been a gentleman. He is great to talk to, whether about racing or even about sports (though his taste in teams leaves a bit to be desired!) When we have had autograph sessions in the grandstand or sponsored races with fans coming into the winner’s circle, there wasn’t anyone better with the fans than Bruce. He is a very likeable guy and one that has represented harness racing well throughout his years in the game. And he isn’t retiring. In fact, on Thursday afternoon Aldrich piloted three winners and two second-place finishers over the course of the seven-race program at Monticello. The 51 year old reinsman still has something left in the tank and will continue to add to his bulky career numbers which consist of more than 7,700 wins and almost $31 million in purses in what has been a fantastic career in the sulky for Aldrich which started all the way back in the mid 80’s at tracks throughout New England. When I spoke with Bruce last week he had nothing but positives to say about his experience at Saratoga. “I truly, truly loved my time there. The people…from owners to trainers to grooms to management, everyone involved up there are professionals and I will miss my interactions with them,” Aldrich told me. As far as his future plans, well, that remains to be seen. “I’m back home now at Monticello but I will reassess things at the end of the year. Whether I’ll go back to driving at both tracks I don’t know. It’s possible. I can tell you honestly, though, that after all these years of being on the go, racing day and night, having weekends off is kind of nice. It’s been great to be able to do things that I haven’t been able to in so long,” Aldrich continued. “But I have to admit, it’s only been a couple of weeks but I already miss it. I miss coming up there and competing.” Whether he misses it enough to resume the hectic schedule that he’s had for the majority of the last decade or not remains to be seen but one would think that one way or another, we haven’t seen the last of Bruce Aldrich Jr. at the Spa. He co-owns 2018 Spa Trotter of the Year nominee Crazycat so maybe he’ll come to town to drive him from time to time. Or maybe, the few month break from traveling and doing double duty will refresh him enough to make a return to Saratoga in 2020. But regardless of what the future holds, it has been a pleasure to watch the classy, talented Bruce Aldrich Jr. compete at the Spa for all these years and to have seen how he conducts himself both on and off the track as an ambassador for the sport that he loves so much.
Live harness racing takes place every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoon at Saratoga starting at 12 Noon and on Saturday evening with first post time set for 6:45pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!