By Bill Finley
DELAWARE, OH – Scott Zeron, the driver of Artspeak, knows what’s on the line in today’s 13th race at Delaware, the second of two elims for the Little Brown Jug.
“It is a big advantage (having the one post),” Zeron said. “If I can beat (Wiggle It Jiggleit) in the first elim I know I can beat him in the final. The first elim is going to feel like the final to me.”
On paper, the two best horses in the 70th Little Brown Jug are Artspeak and Wiggle It Jiggleit, who will face off in the second of two elims. Wiggle It Jiggleit may be the better of the two horses, but Artspeak has the coveted one hole. If he can use that to his advantage and beat Wiggle It Jiggleit in the elim, that would mean Artspeak could get the one post again in the final and Wiggle It Jiggleit definitely will not get it. At Delaware, nothing is more important than post one.
In the elim, this could turn into a Zeron-Montrell Teague chess match that may decide everything. Artspeak has speed and the one hole and Wiggle It Jiggleit, who drew post five, has tons of early speed if driver Montrell Teague wants to call on it. Something has to give, but what, when and how?
“I have thought about that (how the race will play out),” Zeron said. “I have gone through a couple of scenarios and will have to play it by ear off the gate, but I’m going to commit to leaving out of there, for sure. The question is what will (Teague) do?
“Obviously, his horse can go 25 seconds and so can mine. It will be interesting. I’d love to have him sit that two hole and if he does I can control the whole race. He might just take the safe approach and get away where he can be first up and control his own destiny. I’ll know about five steps off the gate what is going to happen.”
Montrell Teague didn’t seem too worried about how the race would unfold or getting caught up in any pre-race mind games.
“I haven’t had a game plan yet with him and I’m not going to start now,” he said. “He’s shown he doesn’t have to have the lead.”
Though Artspeak has the post position edge, Wiggle It Jiggleit is definitely the horse to beat. He is harness racing’s reigning star and on top of the sport’s Top 10 poll. In past years, some horses in that position have bypassed the Jug, their connections citing the heat format and the perceived problems of racing on a half-mile track.
Not only did Wiggle It’s owner George Teague Jr. decide to race in the Jug, he had to pay $45,000 to supplement into the field. A fan of the Jug and it’s rich history, Teague said racing here was never something he had to think twice about.
“It is a lot of people’s most favorite race, including Montrell’s,” Teague said. “He kept pushing me and pushing me to go, even though I am the one who had to put up the money. I wanted to come, too. I am on the Jug board so I felt a little bit of an obligation to help them put on the best show they can.
“The prestige of the Jug is always going to be the biggest part of it. The money is a close second. But as much as anything else I’m not scared. I’m not worried about exposing this horse. If I get beat I get beat and even if that happens I’ll still think he’s one of the better horses to ever to race.”
In addition to his post in the elim, the other worry about Wiggle It Jiggleit is that he hasn’t had a race since Aug. 22. But George Teague Jr. said that could actually be to his advantage.
“That’s not a worry in the least,” Teague said. “He kind of needs that now because he was cranked up racing in January and was getting ready to race all the way back in November. He’s been going for a long, long time. He went in 50 and 2 at Chester (in a qualifier) and couldn’t have gone any easier. It was a good tightener.”
If the winner of the Jug Final doesn’t come out of the second elim it will come as a surprise as Wiggle It Jiggleit and Artspeak look like the two best horses in the overall field– with no one else coming close.
Long before anyone outside of Team Teague had ever heard of Wiggle It Jiggleit, Artspeak was considered the top member of his class. But he has yet to land a huge win this year, while Wiggle It Jiggleit has stolen all the headlines. That could be about to change. Artspeak has had a good month, winning a qualifier at Mohawk by 23 1/4 lengths and then winning the Simcoe by 2 1/4 lengths.
“Yes, I feel good about things,” his trainer, Tony Alagna said. “With the way he qualified and the way he raced in Canada, I have to be happy. I knew the first part of the year would be tough on him with him racing so many weeks in a row. He’s getting better and bouncing back.”
The likely favorite in the first of two elims is Lost For Words. He’s lost six straight, but has been racing well throughout the streak and drew post one in what is undoubtedly the weaker of the two elims.
“I was really happy to see he drew the rail and that he didn’t draw in against Wiggle It Jiggleit,” Miller said. “We’re in a good spot.”
The card also includes the Old Oaken Bucket and the Ms. Versatility. As it is a race for 3-year-old trotters, it should come as no surprise that Jimmy Takter appears to have the upper hand in the Old Oaken Bucket. He has the first and second choice in the morning line in French Laundry and Walter White.