A unique event on the harness-racing calendar every year is the Little Brown Jug, and not just because of its catchy name. The Jug is different—so different that all previously used tactics of horse and driver must be tossed out of the sulky—because of the track on which it is raced.
The Fairgrounds at Delaware, Ohio, home of this fall pacing classic, bears a family resemblance to the old, wooden arenas used for motorcycle racing; it is nearly round, steeply banked and lightning-fast. Only the barest hint of a straightaway in front of the stands and on the back-stretch distinguishes it from a saucer. And this means something murderously special to a gaited horse pulling a man behind him.
A Jug heat is go, go, go, from wire to wire. The driver who lays back for a breather, hoping to catch the pack in a final burst of speed, finds himself forced five or six wide to see daylight ahead. There is simply no point on the track where a horse can make up ground without this severe handicap. Only a truly great pacer can storm around the field in a closing rush and win, as Torpid did last year. And Johnny Simpson, Torpid's driver, was careful to keep the dangerous entries behind him at all times; if they had slipped ahead early in the race, we might well have had a different winner.
It can be seen from this that post position is a mighty important factor on Jug Day. Everyone shoots for the top when the starting gate pulls away; those closest to the rail have the best chance of making it. Obviously, too, the horse that leaves well has a big advantage. The Jug, finally, challenges the whole concept of racehorse training, which is aimed at getting a horse to obey the commands of his driver, on the reasonable theory that men know more about racing strategy than four-legged animals. A fast, rugged horse can win the Little Brown Jug without any help from the superior creature sitting in the sulky. Go, go, go racing does not often require tactical wisdom. Or the ability to judge pace accurately in the heat of competition.
BYE BYE BYRD IS SPEEDIEST
All of which forces the conclusion that the fastest horse on the track next. Thursday should win. True? Not at all. The fastest horse will be a bay colt named Bye Bye Byrd, trained and driven by 64-year-old Don Taylor. He is fastest by virtue of his two-heat record performance at Du Quoin recently, in which he beat practically all the Jug contenders in 1:57 4/5 and 1:58 4/5, sparkling time indeed. The rub is that these victories were achieved, as were nearly all his previous triumphs, by the strategy of laying back and then coming on with blazing stretch drives. This will not work at Delaware, and Don Taylor knows it. Bye Bye Byrd is also something of a lazy race horse. "You have to be after him all the time," says Taylor. "When he starts to pass another horse, he likes to slow up and visit a while." This, too, will not work at Delaware.
There are at least four horses in the Jug who will not let Bye Bye Byrd loaf a step of the way. They are Del Miller's Thorpe Hanover and O'Brien Hanover and Joe O'Brien's Shadow Wave and Raider Frost. Thorpe has been Miller's favorite of his two entries, despite a somewhat disappointing start this season. The big, handsome colt was the winter book Jug choice and may yet be the trackside betting favorite. As usual, Miller will drive him, and Jimmy Jordan will drive O'Brien Hanover. The choice here is O'Brien and Jordan; both horse and driver dearly love to slam out of the gate at top speed and dare anyone to catch them. With a fair post position, they should win.