By John Furgele
It is truly a reflection of a simpler time in America. Long before TV, Americans flocked outside to find things to entertain themselves. One such diversion was the County Fair. In addition to seeing cow milking contests, many fairs had a harness racing track where the locals would bring their standardbreds into pace or trot against others in the county.
That still exists today, though, with all the distractions that exist, it’s hard to notice. One such fair is the Delaware County Fair in Delaware, Ohio. Every September, the eight-day fair commences with fun for all ages, and like many, there is live harness racing.
The Delaware County Fair differs from the rest because it is home to the Little Brown Jug, the most well-known race for pacers in the land. This Thursday marks the 74th renewal of this pacing classic; the third leg of the Pacing Triple Crown.
There are 15 entrants for this year’s Jug and in order to win, each horse has to race twice; first in an elimination and then, an hour or so later, the final.
The Jug drew 15 entrants and will have two eliminations prior to the final. The top four in each elim advance to the final on the fast half-mile surface.
There is something to seeing three races in one day. The strategy for eliminations can vary depending on which trainer and driver you talk to. If you win your elimination, you either get to pick your post position for the final, or you are guaranteed one of the coveted spots. On the other hand, is it wiser to just make sure your horse qualifies perhaps saving something for the later final?
Jug Day is as unique as any. There are 20 races on the card with the Jug final scheduled for 4:57 p.m. ET. Anybody who knows anything about harness racing knows the final will be run closer to 6 p.m. than 5 p.m., but here’s to wishful thinking.
The eliminations have $128,000 purses and the first is led by Southwind Ozzi, who is 7-1-0 in nine starts this year. It would be a feel-good story if Ozzi wins because trainer Bill MacKenzie is one who has toiled at tracks like Freehold where they race for small purses.
For MacKenzie, Southwind Ozzi is a dream come true horse and will certainly be the favorite in his elim. He has earned $480,985 in those nine starts this year and over $515,000 for his career.
The other accomplished colt in this elim is Shake That House, who enters with 6-1-1 in 10 starts to go along with $348,951; none of the others have earned more than $161,000, so it’s safe to say that these two are the class of the field.
The second elimination has eight starters and is led by American Mercury. The Chris Oakes trainee has had a great year with a record of 7-2-1 in 10 starts to go along with $471,853 in 2019 earnings. Artie’s Ideal is the next biggest money earner, but has “only” earned a little over $191,000 this year.
The second elim is a seasoned field, a true testament to standardbreds, specifically pacers. The eight horses have combined to make 107 starts this year; an average of over 13 per horse.
The first elim’s seven horses are a little less battle tested, combining to make 81 starts, an average of 11.6.
Here are the heats with horse, driver and trainer, with the top four finishers advancing to the Little Brown Jug Final.
First Elimination—Race 15, Post Time 3:27 PM
1-Caviart Rockland (Dexter Dunn, Nancy Johansson)
2-De Los Cielos Deo (Yannick Gingras, Ron Burke)
3-Shake That House (Brian Sears, Chris Oakes)
4-Southwind Ozzi (Sears, Bill MacKenzie)
5-Air Force Hanover (Simon Allard, Rene Allard)
6-U.S. Captain (Jason Bartlett, Tony Alagna)
7-Stag Party (Davie Miler, Casie Coleman)
Second Elimination—Race 16, Post Time 3:45 PM
1-Semi Tough (Matt Kakaley, Ron Burke)
2-Lyons Johnnyjnr (Tim Tetrick, Jim King, Jr.)
3-Quatrain Blue Chip (Aaron Merriman, Chris Oakes)
4-Arties’s Ideal (Marcus Miller, Erv Miller)
5-Fast N First (Brian Miller, Blake MacIntosh)
6-Spectrum/Andy Miller/Nick Surick
7-American Mercury/Tyler Buter/Chris Oakes
8-Escapetothebeach/Joe Bongiorno/Tony Alagna
The Jug Final goes for $384,000; the maximum payday a horse can earn is $256,000–$64,000 for winning their elimination and another $192,000 for the final. The Little Brown Jug is not the richest race for pacers, but the prestige of being the Little Brown Jug champion is timeless.
The fans love it; each year over 40,000 flock to the Fairgrounds to see the 20-race card, making it by far the most well-attended harness race of the year in North America.
I’ve never been keen on making predictions and handicapping races. I prefer to leave that to the experts, but I’ve seen these horses race all year and to me, it will come down to American Mercury, Southwind Ozzi or Shake That House. That is not going out on a limb of course, but if these three pace to their capabilities; the 74th Little Brown Jug should be a dandy.
As a kid growing up in the Buffalo suburbs in the 1970s and 80s, the radio was one of John Furgele’s best friends. In the evenings, he used to listen to a show on WBEN radio called “Free Form Sports,” hosted by Buffalo broadcast legend Stan Barron. The show ran weeknights from 6 to 11 pm and featured every kind of sport you could imagine. One minute, Mr. Barron was interviewing a Buffalo Sabres player; the next, he was giving high school field hockey scores.
But there was always one thing that caught John’s ear. During those five hours, Barron would give the results from Western New York’s two harness racing tracks — Buffalo Raceway and Batavia Downs. This is where John learned what exactas, quinellas, trifectas and daily doubles were all about. From then on, he always paid attention to harness racing, and when Niatross (a legendary Western New York horse) hit the scene in 1979, his interest began to blossom.
John believes harness racing is a sport that has the potential to grow and he will explore ways to get that done via marketing, promotion and, above all, the races themselves.
When he’s not watching races, John is busy with his family and his job in sales. Like the pacers and trotters, he does a little running himself and you’ll occasionally find him “going to post” in a local 5K race.