Hanson: Gearing up for my first trip to the Little Brown Jug
Although primarily a follower and bettor of the Thoroughbred game, exposure to harness racing at a young age three decades ago greatly enhanced my love of horse racing in general, thus I've retained some interest in what occurs on the Standardbred scene.
After getting my feet wet during the 1986 Thoroughbred meet at Canterbury (age nine), I really dove in to horse racing head first when the track conducted a financially unsuccessful harness meet that fall. Not only was the racing conveniently held in the evening (Friday night visits after a long week of school were a blast), but I gained my first exposure to reading and interpreting past performances from harness programs. Another fond memory from that time was getting an early peek at a budding star of the sulky, future Hall of Fame driver Ron Pierce.
I became a devout follower of Thoroughbred racing the following year, yet still retained an interest in harness racing. Over the next several years I made sure to take in the sport at Los Alamitos in California and Sportsman's Park in Chicago when I happened to be in the area, and would often stay up late at night to hear Tony Salvaro give harness results from the Chicago tracks on WBBM-AM. As the years went by, though, it became more difficult to keep tabs on harness racing with its limited television exposure and with no live racing locally.
That all changed when I came to Kentucky for school and, later, moved to the Lexington area. Having the Red Mile (which I first visited in 1992) in your backyard is the Standardbred equivalent of living next to Saratoga, at least during the track's two-week Grand Circuit meet in September and October. It's a shame those eight days of racing are not a bigger deal in the community.
Aside from the fact I've worked for Thoroughbred-oriented organizations and taking a mid-week trip to Delaware, Ohio, for the Jug was almost always impractical, I have to admit going there, while on my bucket list, has not been an imperative goal. Some of that feeling perhaps stems from the fact all the action has been readily and conveniently available on TwinSpires.com for many years, as well as that nearly all the major runners from the Jug and other stakes would be arriving Lexington the following week anyway.
When my colleague Ed DeRosa, a native Ohioan, suggested we take in the Jug this year, which will be this coming Thursday, September 22, I didn't even have to think twice about it. Aside from numerous Kentucky Futurities at the Red Mile, this will easily be the biggest harness race I've ever witnessed in person, and with a crowd generally around 50,000 it is always the most highly-attended race of its kind in the country.
The county fair atmosphere, the lightning-fast half-mile strip, and the boisterous race calls by "The Voice" Roger Huston, a veteran of nearly 50 Jugs, are among the things I'm looking forward to next Thursday. Reigning Horse of the Year and fan favorite Wiggle It Jiggleit, who won last year's Jug, is also expected be on hand for viewing and photos at the LBJ barn.
It should be a terrific day of racing, and you can follow along on the TwinSpires Twitter feed and Blog as Ed and I bring you the sights and sounds of Jug Day 2016. I'll have more to write about Jug Day when fields are drawn over the next several days, but until then how about a little Glenn Miller to get us "in the mood."