Return to Little Brown Jug is Homecoming for Kentuckian with Ohio Roots

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Ed DeRosa

September 21st, 2016

Even as urban sprawl inches north of Columbus and threatens the pastoral nature of Delaware 24 miles away, a half-mile patch of dirt in the heart of this rural town will always harken back to simpler times.

The Delaware County Fair bills its Little Brown Jug as The Great American Harness race. For those familiar with the horses who run instead of pace or trot, it’s also often referred to as harness racing’s Kentucky Derby.

And there are similarities: They’re both races restricted to three-year-olds, and they’re both big parties that attract the most people of any event in their respective sports.

But there are differences, too, of course. The Derby, of all that it’s become surrounding the race—the week in Louisville, the parties, the hats, the fashion, the celebrities etc.—is still all about the betting. The Derby handles more than any race in North America, but the Little Brown Jug does not hold that distinction within harness racing.

And while the Derby is a party, there are levels to the club from general admission infield goers to $10,000/ticket Mansion dwellers. The Little Brown Jug is more like everyone being in the infield. Folding chairs surround the half-mile track, tailgating starts early in the grass parking lot, and fans can visit the Jug horses the day of the race in the Jug Barn located on track.

Then there’s not the race itself but the races. The Little Brown Jug winner could race more on Jug day than most Thoroughbreds race in a month. This is because the Little Brown Jug is raced in heats with the first horse to win two heats declared the winner. For more on that, visit Vance Hanson’s blog “Seven Things To Know About the Little Brown Jug.”

But the heart of the Little Brown Jug is in its Ohio roots—located in the heart of the state known as the heart of it all, the race persevered in the early 21st century even as questions surrounded whether Ohio’s harness industry would.

Expanded gaming at racetracks has breathed new life into not only Ohio harness racing but also its Standardbred breeding program, and in addition to the Jug itself, the Delaware County Fair racing program featuring many competitive stakes and series finals for Ohio-bred and based horses.

Fairs in Ohio are a celebrated way of life. Even growing up blocks from Cleveland’s south side in suburban Garfield Heights, trips to area county fairs were regular summer occurrences, and skipping a day of classes at Denison University in Granville to catch the final county fair of the year in nearby Lancaster (Fairfield County) was an annual part of my college curriculum.

I don’t make it back to Ohio as much as I’d like, and the opportunity to do it this week for the Little Brown Jug is very much a homecoming I’m looking forward to.

The at-least-19-race card (there would be 20 races if the Little Brown Jug requires a third heat race-off) begins at 11 a.m. EDT and would be complete by 5:30. It’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon. For harness racing past performances, CLICK HERE.