by Brett Sturman
Following another picture-perfect September Thursday from the Delaware County Fair, here are my notables from the 74th edition of the Little Brown Jug:
Southwind Ozzi: With authoritative wins in his Jug elimination and in the Jug final heat, he’s stamped himself as the hottest 3-year-old pacer going right now in the sport. He entered the week 10th in the current top ten poll, and he’s going to be considerably higher than that when next week’s poll comes out. With only nine races on the year heading into Thursday, his ascension has been made even more impressive by the fact that he was just 1 for 7 with $34,328 in earnings as 2-year-old. Even though he showed flashes of potential last year, it was nothing like the horse he’s turned into this year. In addition to unrelenting fast wins in Pennsylvania Sires Stakes (PASS) action, he crushed in the Adios and the style in which he does it isn’t often seen these days. With near carbon copy races on Thursday between his two heats, his ability to continuously grind away first over and not tire makes him special.
Brian Sears: As the winning driver of the Little Brown Jug, Sears continued his hot streak from recent months. Only down to drive three horses on Thursday, Sears won four races (Gold Digger King, Celestial Arden N, Southwind Ozzi twice). Outside of the two Southind Ozzi Jug wins, one of those winners was with a 19-1 shot and he defeated a 4-5 favorite with another. Sears currently sits in ninth in total earnings this year, but he’s accomplished that with only 671 starts. By comparison, Matt Kakaley entered Thursday just a few dollars ahead of Sears but has 1,843 starts to his credit. Is there a better “money” driver in the sport than Sears?
Ontario Sire Stakes: In a column a couple weeks ago I had mentioned how a lot of these horses coming out of the Ontario Sire Stakes are underrated because most casual observers don’t closely follow those races, and it showed today in the Jug. Coming into Thursday, how many people were intimately familiar with the horse named Fast N First? He entered the Jug coming out of OSS Grassroots races throughout the season and he more than proved that he could go with the any of the other top 3-year-olds from across North America. Showing impressive lines throughout his OSS-RS races, he did the sire stakes program proud in taking his Jug elimination from off the pace at double digit odds. Unfortunately for him, Southind Ozzi was already long gone by the time he was able to move to the inside from a tiring leader, but he was pacing strong to the end. Perhaps with a slightly different trip it could have been a different result. Credit also to trainer Blake Macintosh who was aiming for his second Jug in a row (Courtly Choice) in just his second Jug try.
Wiggle It Jiggleit: In his much anticipated first start since 2016, Wiggle It Jiggleit delivered a strong and from my standpoint, a better-than-expected performance that should have many excited about the rest of his season. Returning to the scene of his famous Little Brown Jug win which should be regarded as one of the best races in harness racing history, he was bet down from 6-1 to 4-5. It seemed like he was being bet more on memory than anything else, but Teague drove him confidently and there was no disgrace in losing to a horse that came to race in a powerful 1:51.2 clocking.
Racing style: For a track and a day that’s almost always characterized by short-priced winners and front-end speed, plenty of horses were able to come from off the pace and win. As a result, it made for a much more entertaining and fun style of racing than we’re accustomed to. Of the last seven of nine races on the card, including the final six, no horse won that was on the lead for the first part of the race. In that span, winners paid $87, $41, $30, $25, $15 as well as having a few other beaten favorites in there. Even with Southwind Ozzi taking the first-over route, it looked for a little bit as if the race wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion from the onset.
Final heat scratches: As has become the norm in recent years, there were two defections from the final Jug heat. Like last year when an otherwise competitive Stay Hungry drew post 8 and scratched, post 8 scratched again this year from the final. More surprising perhaps was the horse Artie’s Ideal that scratched from post 6. He was unquestionably hard used in his elimination but was right there at the wire and could have feasibly competed for a top spot in the final had he raced. As I said in a column last year on the topic, I understand not wanting to race twice in a day. But it’s not like these horses would have scratched had they drawn posts 1 or 2, so it’s not totally about racing twice on one day. If you’re going to enter the Jug, there should be a realistic expectation that barring an immediate threat to health that you’re in it to race in both heats.
Hoosier Park: I hate to single out any one track, but it was noted by a couple of interested observers with side by side screenshots on social media that inexplicably Hoosier Park ran its first race of the night, a N/W 2 trot for $8,000, directly on top of the Little Brown Jug final. I understand that a lot of these tracks operate independently of one another, but someone somewhere must know when the most famed race of the harness racing year is going off. A few tracks are already good at this, but there needs to be more communication between tracks as to help showcase and draw undivided attention to the big races for the overall betterment of the sport.