Should Sylvia Hanover race in the Little Brown Jug?

by Brett Sturman

With The Meadowlands Championship meet concluding last week it marks what could be considered the halfway point in this year’s harness racing season. There’s already been many twists and turns throughout the season and many more of which are sure to come as the Grand Circuit begins to transition towards its late summer and fall schedule. With that, it’s worth exploring how the highest rated 3-year-olds have gotten to this point and what can be expected in the second half of the year.

Starting at the very top, a 3-year-old filly pacer narrowly leads 3-year-old pacing colt Confederate in the most current Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown weekly poll. As always, the horse atop the weekly poll is subjective. It’s true that Sylvia Hanover is unbeaten this year, but her past few races have been loaded with anxious moments. On the other hand, Confederate is just a single narrow defeat (in a race where he was the best horse, for what it’s worth) from being unbeaten this season himself. And his last two wins have been absolute crush jobs in the Meadowlands Pace and Cane Pace.

I’m sure as the 3-year-old grind continues it’s likely that either or both horses will experience a bump or two in the road, but what if they both keep winning? How can we differentiate between the two? For Sylvia Hanover, what if she elected to take on male rivals in the Little Brown Jug? Doing so — and winning it — would have far greater implications than a weekly poll, it could stamp her as one of the most memorable 3-year-old fillies ever.

If it were purely a matchup against Confederate, that doesn’t seem like something that would be in the best interest of Sylvia Hanover. However, there hasn’t been any indication to date from those around Confederate that supplementing for $45,000 to the now $1 million Little Brown Jug in addition to focusing on the Grand Circuit in Lexington is of particular interest. If Confederate were to not race in the Jug, which seems to be more likely than not, what other 3-year-olds are there that Sylvia Hanover couldn’t theoretically go with?

You have to go way back to 1981 to find the last (and only) time a filly has ever won the Little Brown Jug, but there is that precedent for it. Driven by Glen Garnsey, that Jug was won by the immortal Fan Hanover. Though admittedly rare, there have been other instances in signature 3-year-old pacing events where fillies have tried to take on their male counterparts. It’s not something out of the question, and just weeks ago after her triumph in 1:48.2 in the ironically named Fan Hanover Stakes at Woodbine Mohawk Park, Sylvia Hanover had the look of a filly that matched up well against the sophomore colts and geldings.

In that Fan Hanover final, Sylvia Hanover humbled another sensational filly in Twin B Joe Fresh and continued to beat that rival again next out at The Meadowlands in the Mistletoe Shalee in a race where it didn’t look as if things were going to plan. And if there’s a knock, it’s that the wins such as that one haven’t all come easy. For driver Bob McClure, it’s been a series of never-say-die drives that have ultimately kept her to task at earlier points in her miles and has gotten her to the front in her miles when it matters most. An eccentric type, there’s no denying her talent.

In a release put out by the Little Brown Jug this week, it lists the top 10 contenders (listing only horses currently eligible, not including horses who may be under supplemental consideration) as: It’s My Show, Cannibal, Voukefalas, Redwood Hanover, Seven Colors, Hungry Angel Boy, Stockade Seelster, Thunder Hunter Joe, Ammo, and Moment Is Here.

The performances for most of these top 3-year-olds are all well documented and so it raises the interesting question. With all other things including post position being equal, at her very best, couldn’t Sylvia Hanover go with those horses? It doesn’t seem like an impossible ask. Would it be something worth trying for $1 million and for a chance at racing immortality?

With all of her career races having been at either Woodbine Mohawk Park or The Meadowlands, Sylvia Hanover has never raced on a half-mile track. She is staked, however, to the Jugette, so the thought of her getting around a smaller sized oval is something that must have already been considered by her connections.

Perhaps the largest deterrent is that Sylvia Hanover would presumably need to pay the $45,000 fee to supplement into the Jug. I don’t believe there is any flexibility offered in terms of the Jug supplement just because she’s already been paid up separately to the Jugette, so that would seem like a valid obstacle.

In the meanwhile, Sylvia Hanover can’t be faulted for continuing to do all that she’s been expected to do. But there could be opportunities ahead for her to transcend a poll and to truly demonstrate her potential generational greatness. Beating pacing male rivals in a $1 million race would do just that.