I’m not going to pretend that if I ever got into the owning or breeding side of the horse racing game that I would want to win the Little Brown Jug more than the Kentucky Derby or some other major Thoroughbred races, but when it comes to races in my native Ohio, the Little Brown Jug tops the bucket list–even ahead of the Ohio Derby.
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The Little Brown Jug is that magical mix of embodying the best of both its sport and locale a la the Kentucky Derby.
The Little Brown Jug is as much a harness race as it is a celebration of Ohio and its county fair program, which offers pari-mutuel harness racing throughout the state and what I will always consider the original food trucks: steak-on-a-stick wagons, french waffle houses, and fried everything out of the back of a trailer.
The 72nd Little Brown Jug is Thursday, September 21, at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, and I’ll be there for the fourth time. The 1999 Jug won by eventual Pacing Triple Crown champion Blissful Hall was the first horse racing event I ever covered when Newark Advocate Sports Editor Scott Hennen indulged my horse racing jones and let me play Turf writer (or whatever they’re called in harness) as a 19-year-old college junior.
Harness racing was still important enough in the late 90s that ESPN covered the Jug at least through 1998 (I watched that edition from the common room of my dorm at Denison University) and when I attended the race as press the following year there were actually newspapers reporters who traveled to be there.
This year’s Jug will have a much different look with the elimination of the potential for a third heat by not requiring the Little Brown Jug winner to win twice. Instead, the first heat will be to determine post positions of the second heat, which is the final. Ironically, that first Jug I covered/attended featured a 4-horse race off between the three division winners of the 1st heat and the winner of the 2nd heat.
This year, the first heat of the Little Brown Jug is race 16 of a 22-race day that begins at 11 a.m. EDT. (there is a 2-race “morning program” followed by a 20-race afternoon program). The final is race 20, which is the 22nd race of the day at the Delaware County Fair. TwinSpires.com is offering a bet back on the 2nd heat (the final, race 20 of the afternoon program). If your pick finishes 2nd, then you get your win bet back up to $10.
We do know the program for the first heat of the Little Brown Jug, but I’ll be treading lightly because with the top two choices trained by the same guy and no need to win twice, it’s impossible to know the strategy for the first heat. Are both horses trying to win? Just improve position? Overall, I do prefer 2-to-1 morning line favorite Downbytheseaside to stablemate Fear the Dragon (7-to-2 on morning line), but they’re both more likely to be in the even money range, which prompts me to either A) have an opinion on who will win, and/or B) beat one of them out of the “perfecta”.
If A) then I’m definitely going with Downbytheseaside at 8-to-5 or better, as he has done well on half-mile tracks, including not only a win over Fear the Dragon at Northfield Park but also a win at this track. If B), then #1 Funknwaffles is preferred to the rest by virtue of his rail post position and his lifetime best mark has come on the half. He’s worth a look to me with anything less than 10% in any of the straight wagering pools.
That’s another thing about betting Jug day at the Delaware County Fair. This is a very heavy show-wagering crowd. It’s not uncommon to see the show pool out handle the place pool without bridge jumping being in play. Takeout plus dime breakage can make the show pool a tough row to hoe, but you occasionally do see legitimate favorites with up to 50% of the win pool have half that or less in the show pool because the money gets spread around so much.
So join me on Twitter @EJXD2 and the aforementioned TwinSpires social media channels on Thursday, September 20, as I bring you the sights and sounds and descriptions of smells of the Great American Harness Race: The Little Brown Jug! Here’s a taste from last year: