Jug Day: Lots of heat but not many more on the track

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 22nd, 2016

DELAWARE, OHIO -- The fair aspect is unmistakable. It's hot, pleasant aromas permeate from the food (fried and not fried) stands, and the amusement rides are ubiquitous.

But the Delaware County Fairgrounds is also unmistakably a racetrack in an old-fashioned, almost anachronistic, sense. The stadium seating, boxes, and backless benches are filled to near-capacity in the grandstand. Within its bowels lie the row of mutuel windows with a tote board atop it, the concessions, and gift stand. There is simply no bad seat to be had, no obstruction to be found in the house, when you're at a half-mile track such as this.

The Jug Barn, beautifully maintained and fan-friendly; the Log Cabin, housing officials and a pictorial history of Jugs past; the VIP tent on the first turn and the lawn chairs and coolers bordering the rest of the racetrack -- there's simply little else in racing, regardless of breed, to match the backdrop of Little Brown Jug day.

Unfortunately, a significant part of Jug history is going away this day. Today's participants will be the last generation of three-year-old pacers required to win two heats to claim the Jug, a decision that came down a mere 24 hours ago. This fact makes our first Jug trip today a little more special.

As one of the remaining holdouts in harness racing, the Little Brown Jug remained a unique throwback to the sport's great tradition of heat racing, something which Thoroughbreds practically abandoned more than a century ago. However, it's never seemed to bother the trotters and pacers to go two or three miles in an afternoon, especially after taking more than a few warm-up laps prior to that first run.

We'll savor that aspect of the race when it comes up later in the afternoon. For now, there's more to soak up in the time leading up to it.

As for the Jug itself, it's hard to look past favorites Betting Line and Racing Hill, but Dr J Hanover in the first elimination has some speed, an inside post, and is improving at the right time. He's my must-use in the exotics in both his first run and in the final heat, which I assume he'll appear in given the small field.

Wouldn't it be great if he should surprise in the final heat against the two favorites? That would require a race-off, a fitting way on which to close this 71-year chapter on Little Brown Jug history.