Harness Preview: 2014 Little Brown Jug

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Ted Black

September 18th, 2014

by Ted Black

Throughout the year standardbred racing fans point to a number of dates on the calendar that are simply too good to miss and one of them is tomorrow afternoon when the Delaware (OH) County Fairgrounds hosts the latest edition of the Little Brown Jug, one of the sport's most coveted events and one of the genuine marquee events for three-year-old pacing colts.

While Thursday afternoon might seem like an odd time to host a lucrative stakes, the Little Brown Jug has little difficulty attracting fans or top horses. One of the sport's few remaining heat races - one horse must win TWICE on Thursday in order to be crowned the Jug champion - the Little Brown Jug not only features the best three-year-old colts in the land, but is also played out in front of 50,000 fans. Both grandstands are generally overflowing with spectators and fans also line the fence that encircles the track, a modern homage to the chariot races viewed by the Romans two thousand years ago.

Of course, both eliminations of the Jug will be far less chaotic than any racing scene witnessed in "Ben Hur" and the top four finishers from each opening heat return for a second heat an hour later. Both elim winners are afforded the luxury of the two inside post positions, with the two second-place finishers getting posts three and four, respectively and so on through the eight returnees. If one of the two first heat winners also wins the second heat, the Jug is over and a champion crowned. But if neither of the elim winners captures the second heat then the three winners return an hour later for a race-off, with that winner finally garnering the well-deserved top prize.

In the first Jug elimination, which came up considerably lighter than the second one, Lyonssomewhere (Yannick Gingras) will likely be the post time choice although he will have to overcome post seven on the Delaware half-mile oval in order to prevail. The Jim Takter trainee has won five of nine starts and earned over $370,00 this year while facing many of the best sophomore pacing colts in the land. But attempting to overcome post seven on this half-mile oval is a dangerous task and Lyonssomewhere is worth playing against at a short price.

While Lyonssomewhere is a genuine bet-against, it is difficult to get overly excited about any of his rivals. Let's Drink On It (Tyler Smith) has the rail for trainer Joe Seekman and sports a solid 5-2-2 slate and $170,000 bankroll from 14 starts and a seasonal mark of 1:48.3 on a mile oval. Winds Of Change (Brett Miller) has post two for trainer Linda Toscano, but he has won only twice in 10 starts and has yet to earn $100,000 this year.

On Golden Ponder (John Campbell) appears to have plenty of potential, having won three of four starts and earning just over $110,000 for trainer Robert McIntosh and he will start from post two. But his lack of experience, especially on the smaller tracks, could work against him. Thus, the best play here could be At Press Time (Matt Kakaley), who has won six of 15 starts and earned nearly $300,000 for trainer Ron Burke. At Press Time has faced several of the sport's top three-year-olds and boasts a solid 1:48.2 mark on a five-eighths mile oval, so he is well worth backing at 6-1 while leaving from post five.

As luck would have it, the two best colts in the Jug drew into the second elimination and one of them garnered the coveted rail.

McWicked (David Miller) has won nine of 13 starts this year and banked over $900,000 for trainer Casie Coleman, topped by a sharp score in the Adios, which had been a heat race until recently. McWicked also had the good fortune to draw the rail for this elim and he will likely be leaving quickly and forcing his rivals to find seats behind him. He is not worth backing at 4-5, but McWicked seems hard to play against since he has the rail and an abundance of gate speed.

Drawing well to his outside in post six is He's Watching (Tim Tetrick), last year's champion two-year-old colt pacer and sharp winner of the Meadowlands Pace earlier this summer in 1:46.4 for trainer David Menary. He's Watching has won five of nine starts this year and banked over $800,000 and, along with McWicked, is on the short list of contenders for champion three-year-old colt pacer. A Jug win would go a long way toward helping either colt, but He's Watching will have to overcome post six and a long, parked out journey to win his elim and then would still have to beat McWicked in the second heat in order to force a race-off.

Trainer Jimmy Takter has already won the Hambletonian and most of the sport's major races for trotters, but clearly the Swedish import would like to garner a Jug title. Lyonssomewhere gives him a chance in the first elim and Somewhere In LA (Brett Miller) is his best opportunity to upend both McWicked and He's Watching in the second elim. Somewhere In LA sports a solid 6-4-2 slate and over $300,000 banked from 15 starts this season while taking a 1:50 mark on a five-eighths mile track, but he will likely be hardpressed to overtake McWicked early and then have a tough task seeking to hold off the late bid of He's Watching.