My Little Brown Jug memories, Part 1

by Murray Brown

When the first of my three-part article on the Hambletonians I have attended appeared (part 2 here, part 3 here), Jack Darling suggested I do a comparable column on the Little Brown Jugs I have seen. Although I didn’t actually get to Delaware, OH until 1962, the 3-year-old class I first became involved with was that of 1960. So that is where I will begin. I’ll split these segments as I grow weary of researching them or of taxing my inexact memory to come up with the details.

1960 — Bullet Hanover — I wasn›t at Delaware, but I was at Yonkers and Roosevelt to see the first two legs of the Triple Crown; the Cane Pace and The Messenger, where those races represented our three premier races for 3-year-old pacers. Although Bullet Hanover was probably the best in the Jug that year, he was not the best 3-year-old pacer. That honor belonged to the free legged filly Countess Adios who crushed the boys in the Cane and the Messenger. There is no doubt in my mind that she would have done the same in the Jug if she had been eligible.

It was quite a good group of pacers in the Jug. In addition to Bullet Hanover, the race included the first heat winner little Muncy Hanover, Dancer Hanover, Merrie Gesture and Bright Knight. Bullet Hanover made a break leaving in the first heat. His canny pilot and trainer John Simpson could probably have been fifth, sixth or seventh, instead he counted those in front of him to assure himself of the 9-hole behind the rail horse getting himself as good a position as possible without extending Bullet. The race worked to his specifications, although in the final heat it appeared as though Dancer Hanover might have gotten up for the win if not for an unfortunate break about a hundred yards from the wire.

1961 — Henry T. Adios — If ever there was a perfect half-mile track horse Henry T. Adios was probably the one. He could leave like a bullet and then be immediately restrained. The Jug was perfect for a horse like him. This edition of the Jug attracted 19 entrants, the most in the history of the race. The first heat was won by Ohio home town favorite Lang Hanover for Samuel Huttenbauer, driven and trained by Jim Hackett. The second heat was won by the filly Way Wave gamely over Henry T. Adios. The filly was driven by Ralph Baldwin for her owner breeder Castleton Farms. The third heat brought together the two heat winners in addition to six other entrants from the first two heats. It was won by Henry T. Adios in his style, leaving and then reclaiming at the half en route to the win. The fourth heat brought out the three heat winners. As expected, Stanley Dancer driving Henry T. Adios left and controlled the pace. Baldwin and Way Wave came at them to no avail at the 5/8ths, with Lang Hanover in the deuce. HTA drew away in the stretch with Way Wave making a tired break and Lang Hanover getting up for the place. It’s somewhat ironic that of all the great world champion sons of Adios, not Bret Hanover, not Adios Butler, not Adios Harry, not Bullet Hanover, but little Henry T. Adios was destined to make the greatest influence on the breed through his son Silent Majority, thence to Abercrombie and to Artsplace and considering all of Artsplace’s great sons and daughters. It seems that much like the great sires Adios, Tar Heel and Albatross, Artsplace has yet to produce a great siring son to carry on the male line. But his daughters are without peer in the breeding arena.

1962 — Lehigh Hanover — This race represented my first trip to Delaware, OH. I was 21 years old and not only didn’t I have a car, but I also didn’t have a driver’s license. Moreover, I had no idea how to drive a car. I desperately wanted to go to this place called Delaware, OH, to see America’s greatest harness race, the Little Brown Jug. I somehow managed to persuade my friend Eddie Schneerer to make the trip with me. Schneerer not only could drive, but he also had a car. We set out to Ohio. Schneerer of course was to do the driving. It was my job as his navigator to tell him where to go. We drove the first 600 miles from Montreal to Cleveland before pulling over in a rest stop to get some sleep. Get a hotel room? No chance! We had to preserve our betting capital. We arrived at the Delaware County Fairgrounds at daybreak the Wednesday before the big race was to take place. The first thing I recall from that morning was a big crowd gathered in front of the stall of the hometown favorite Ohio-owned Coffee Break. The diminutive colt had both of his front legs immersed in boots filled with ice. I was later to find that the purpose of those ice boots was to treat the two bowed tendons on Coffee Break’s front legs. We spent the rest of the day walking the fairgrounds, betting and eating all the junk food available at the fair. I don’t remember how well we did at the windows, but we must have done okay since we splurged for a hotel room that night. The next day was Jug Day. Lehigh Hanover won his first heat in overpowering fashion over heavily favored Coffee Break. The next heat was won by Gamecock who I recall having made a bet on. For the final, Lehigh was much the best, winning going away by a length and a half. My money was on Gamecock being catch driven by Joe O’Brien for John Simpson who was driving Thor Hanover. Gamecock made a bad break at the start. The race had some very good colts in addition to Lehigh, Coffee Break and Gamecock, there were Buxton Hanover, Messenger winner Thor Hanover and Meadow Newport (who was to be renamed Adios Mir per the custom of the time).

I found a new hero in the undercard that day. The stakes race for 2-year-old pacing colts, The Standardbred, was won by a colt by Solicitor named Overtrick in jaw dropping fashion. I vowed to return to Delaware the next year to see my new hero win the Little Brown Jug.

1963 — Overtrick — There was never any doubt in my mind that Overtrick was going to win the Jug. The only doubt was how I was going to get there to see him do it. At the time I was what I would call a rolling stone. I was enrolled in college, but most of my time was spent at Blue Bonnets, Richelieu Park or playing hearts in the common room at Sir George Williams University. In my spare time I did some pedigree work for individuals and sales companies. There was a yearling sale being held at Delaware the night before the Jug. There was a Dale Frost yearling being offered who›s pedigree interested me. I managed to get an owner in Montreal interested in the colt. I offered him a proposition. I›d go to Delaware and look at the yearling, or in reality I›d get someone who knew what he was looking at to look at him for me. In return the owner would pay my expenses to and from Delaware.

When I got there, I asked John Patterson to look at the colt for me. He did and turned him down. Even I, with my then uneducated eye, could see that the colt was small, far too small. I believe he sold for $1,600 and nothing of consequence became of him. But I made it to Delaware and I saw my new hero Overtrick driven by my now friend John Patterson as a convincing winner of the Little Brown Jug. Country Don finished a rail hugging second with Meadow Skipper after making an exciting three deep sweep finishing third.

1964 — Vicar Hanover — This was the first Jug where I drove to Delaware for the race. I had just got my first car before I even got my driver’s license or, for that matter, before I even knew how to drive. I was working for the Miron Brothers, then the largest and most prominent racing stable in Canada. Mr. Adrien Miron, the stable’s patriarch said that it was crazy that the “garcon” had to take a bus the 25 miles or so from Montreal to the Farm and training center in St. Augustin, a tiny dot on the map between Montreal and Lachute. Miron called his friend Paul Sanguinet — also a horse owner — of Sanguinet Motors. He told him to get a nice car for me. There was a silver 1965 Pontiac Super Sport waiting for me the next morning. There was a problem though; I didn’t know how to drive. I took two spins on the training track and pronounced myself fit to drive. This was in early September of 1964. A few days later, Miron decided that he wanted to own a horse in the little Brown Jug. He told me to find him one. I got on the phone calling owners. I called Jack Baugh in Charlotte, NC, a few days before the Jug. Yes, he would sell Red Carpet to the Mirons. He gave me a price. Miron said he would wire the money that day. Marcel Dostie was the contract trainer/driver for the stable. He wanted to get his best groom to Delaware to take care of Red Carpet for the race. I was to drive the groom, a young man named Gilles Gendron (yes, the same Gilles Gendron recently installed in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame) to Delaware. At the time, Gendron did not speak a word of English and I did not speak much French. I doubt that I had my driver’s license much more than a week; how I got it is another story. We were off to Ohio. We managed to get there despite the two speeding tickets received by this neophyte driver. It was a cold dreary day in Delaware. The group of horses were far from the best to compete in the classic race. Combat Time driven by Bruce Nickells won the first heat. Billy Haughton’s Vicar Hanover won the second and the final. The only other thing of consequence was that it was the only Jug I’ve seen where an objection was filed. Red Carpet was pushed three deep by a horse driven by Vernon Dancer where he was hung out to dry. Dostie filed an objection, but presiding judge Bob Steele wouldn’t hear anything of it.

1965 — Bret Hanover — This was the Jug that almost never happened. It had poured the day and night before, not letting up until the morning of Jug Day. The track was a quagmire. At about 10a.m. Jug president Hank Thomson and track superintendent Wayne “Curly” Smart huddled to see if they were going to race.

‘What do you think Curly?’ Thomson said. ‘I think we can make it happen,’ Smart said incredulously.

Then Curly and his crew went to work. They made the impossible, possible. Despite starting an hour late, they raced and they had a good racetrack. There were only seven starters, the shortest in Jug history. It was likely the presence of the superstar Bret Hanover that chased them all away. The group although small was nevertheless loaded with quality. None of them were as good as Bret Hanover but they were very good nonetheless. They included Bret’s rare nemesis Adios Vic (who couldn’t handle the turns on a half very well), Rivaltime, Gee Lee Hanover and home town entry Tuxedo Hanover trained and driven by Curly Smart. As expected, Bret Hanover was a comfortable winner over the popular Tuxedo Hanover in the world record time of 1:57h. The track that was considered impossible to race on just a few hours previous yielded a world record performance thanks to two guys named Bret and Smart.

1966 — Romeo Hanover — The Jerry Silverman-trained and George Sholty-driven chestnut son of Dancer Hanover came to Delaware riding a 13-race win streak. His was a truly rags to riches story. Three Brooklyn families pooled their money and came up with $10,000 to buy a yearling at the Harrisburg sale. They bought one for $3,500 and had $6,500 left. Their remaining choice was Romeo Hanover. But he was to bring $8,500. They decided to roll the dice and go for the $8,500 even though they would have to beat the check to the bank to cover the extra $2,000. Their trainer was Bronx native 29-year-old Jerry Silverman. Romeo might have been the first yearling he ever trained. The colt took his first lessons at the unsuccessful Arizona harness track outside of Phoenix. Romeo was to become the 2-year-old pacer of 1965 under the tutelage of Silverman and driver Billy Myer, winning 13 of 16 starts. The colt caught the eye of Morty Finder, who purchased a 25 per cent interest in him for $7,500. The field on Jug Day was an unwieldly 12 for Delaware’s half mile track.

In both heats Romeo assumed command before the quarter and cruised home thereafter. It was a relatively average field that he defeated. Good Time Boy finished second in both heats. The filly Bonjour Hanover which was expected to be his greatest competition finished third. There was a colt that barely got a call in the race named Overcall who’s light was to shine brightly three years from then going through an undefeated season where he was 22-for-22.

Note: In my column last week I prefaced the article by saying I would add the names of any others I knew who had attended all the Hambletonians at The Meadowlands in addition to John Campbell, Bob Boni and myself. I now have three more: Steve Jones and two elders, Frank “The Elder” Antonacci and Mike “The Elder” Kimelman. The over under of 10 is currently still under.