DELAWARE, OHIO -- Trainer Ron Potter was running down the field for Thursday's Little Brown Jug, the second leg in the Pacing Triple Crown, and couldn't find anyone he didn't like.
"There are 12 racing and all 12 came here for the same reason," said Potter, the trainer of Little Brown Jug starter Big Bad John. "There might be a couple in here who put the horses in just so they could say they had a horse in the Jug, but, then again, maybe not. On any given day any one of these 12 could win."
Everybody always looks at what a horse did in the Jug. It is the most important race at this time, in the middle of the year.
”-- Ed Hart, trainer of Roll With Joe
So far, the top 3-year-old male pacers have taken turns beating one another. Up The Credit won the North America Cup. Roll With Joe proved best in the Meadowlands Pace. Betterthancheddar won the Cane Pace, the first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown. Big Bad John took the Oliver Wendell Holmes. Custard The Dragon's claim to fame is a win in the Hoosier Cup. All five are in Thursday's field.
"Everybody always looks at what a horse did in the Jug," said Ed Hart, the trainer of Roll With Joe. "It is the most important race at this time, in the middle of the year. We have won the Meadowlands Pace and he has had a great year so far. If we do well in here he would be on top."
The Little Brown Jug is raced on a Thursday afternoon at a small county fair outside Columbus, Ohio, but it is among the most prestigious events in the sport and annually attracts a crowd in the neighborhood of 50,000,
The race is contested in heats. The first four finishers from each heat come back for the second elimination race. If a heat winner wins the second elimination, the race is over and the second elimination winner is crowned the winner. If not, the three winners return for a race-off. It doesn't happen often, but sometimes a horse has to race three times in a single day to win the Jug, making it among the most grueling tests in all of racing.
Big Bad John is the 8-5 morning line favorite in the first heat. He is coming off a win in a sire stakes race at Chester and will be driven by Ohio native Dave Miller. Powerful Mist (7-2) and Custard The Dragon (5-1) may be the main threats in the six-horse race.
Roll With Joe is the 2-1 favorite in the second elimination, also a six-horse field. Betterthancheddar (3-1) and Up The Credit (4-1) are also threats.
Casie Coleman, Canada's top trainer, has called Betterthancheddar the fastest horse she has ever trained but knows he still has something to prove.
"I've known all along how much talent this horse has and I've always said it to the press," Coleman said. "But he hasn't showed it to them. I took a lot of heat over what I have said when I said he was the fastest colt I've ever trained, but I still stand by that. I've had Sportswriter, American Ideal, Art Colony; I've had some nice colts and he is faster. I know he hasn't proven it yet but he will."
I can't even imagine what it would feel like for me to win this race For someone around here winning this race would be far and away the most important thing I have ever done.
”-- Brian Brown, trainer of Something For Doc
The race is contested over a half-mile track, making post positions and tactics very important. The two heat winners will get to choose their post positions for the second elimination race. More often than not, the race is won by a horse with an inside post and a lot of early speed.
"It is very important to win the elimination and get that under your belt, "Potter said. "Do that and you are a lot better off for the second one. You don't want to have to go three heats."
The purse for the Little Brown Jug is $526,800, which makes it worth almost $1 million less than the $1.5 million North America Cup. There are a number of other races that are richer, but the Jug, much like the Kentucky Derby for thoroughbreds, is the race everyone wants to win.
Brian Brown is starting longshot Something For Doc, who is 10-1 in the first elimination. Brown is a native of Ohio and has been coming to the Jug since he was a young child. This will be his first starter in the race.
"I can't even imagine what it would feel like for me to win this race," he said. "I know he is a longshot and I'd be happy for him to finish in the money. But you never know. For someone around here winning this race would be far and away the most important thing I have ever done."
"The money isn't the greatest," said George Teague Jr., the trainer of Custard The Dragon and Wink N Atcha, who will go in the second elimination. "But there is so much history and tradition. People get pumped up to see the races here. Being here is just a lot of fun. This is one race I really want to win.
Recently launched, Harness Racing Update is the most comprehensive source of news, results and entries in harness racing -- and it is free. To sign up go to www.harnessracingupdate.com.