It is the pleasant custom of many Little Brown Jug fans at the Delaware (Ohio) County Fair to consume a prerace tailgate lunch of fried chicken and, in addition, to get lightly sautéed themselves, especially on chilly Jug days. Last Thursday was cold enough to de-kink every tail in the swine pavilion at the fair. But at least one knowing Jug man needed no artificial stimulants. In fact, as he warmed up his pacer, Lehigh Hanover, on Delaware's half-mile saucer, Driver Stanley Dancer was merrily belting out the chorus of When the Saints Go Marching In.
Dancer's blithe manner seemed odd. Although he is a master driver and trainer and in Lehigh had lots of horse between the shafts, he was supposed to be terribly afraid of Coffee Break, a swift, pony-sized bay driven by jockey-sized George Sholty. Every other rival in the field of 13—the fastest ever, with 10 horses already under the magic two-minute mark for a racing mile—was said to share this same worry. "Coffee Break stands out," was the word around the Jug paddock.
And so Stanley was neglected by a good many stable strollers (not to mention bettors) before the first Jug heat. The nose-patters mostly wanted to pat Coffee Break, the tough little colt who had paced the fastest harness racing mile of 1962 a few weeks before—1:57, at Springfield, Ill.
No visitors, please
But Coffee Break wasn't receiving visitors. Hidden in his stall by a blanket draped across the doorway, he stood with his left front leg in a rubber ice boot. He had bowed a tendon in the spring. Ice treatments and Sholty's patient touch had kept him fit enough, despite his serious mishap, to win six of 13 starts for the year.
"I can never tell how he'll do until I race him," said Sholty, the smallest (5 feet 3, 110 pounds) driver alive and one of the best and most exciting. "I hardly work him at all between races for fear he'll go lame."
The Jug field was split into two elimination heats, with six horses in the first and seven in the second. The four leading horses from the first and five from the second heat would return for a third mile. If no horse won two of the three heats, the three heat winners would race still another mile to determine the final victor in the most esteemed stake for 3-year-old pacers.
Dancer, who was up against the favored Sholty in the first heat and also John Simpson with Thor Hanover (71-to-1 winner of The Messenger Stake), was the 5-to-2 second choice. Breaking with Lehigh from the No. 2 post, he coolly rolled along in fourth place for three quarters and then pulled outside, rounding the last turn behind a flying Coffee Break. Surprisingly, in a very short stretch, Lehigh trounced Sholty's colt by no less than 1¼ lengths at the wire, and Coffee Break narrowly saved second place from Del Miller's Meadow Battles. The dazzling fractions were 29⅕ 59, 1:29⅘ the final quarter in 29. A brush from the outside post to the first quarter probably cooked Thor for the day, although he finished fourth.
Lehigh's near-record clocking was astonishing for so raw a day; hot, still weather is the best for extreme pacing speed. "In that fast a heat on a day like this," said Sholty, "I was tickled to death to finish where I did."
"You know," said Stan Dancer impishly, "I think Lehigh had some pace left."
Indeed he did. After the second elimination went to Simpson's other entry, Gamecock, in 2:01⅕ Lehigh started the nine-horse third dash on the rail, with Gamecock, now driven by Joe O'Brien, in post 2. (Simpson, who certainly had no luck this day, again drew the outside spot with Thor.) A startled roar went up from the crowd of 39,000 as Gamecock broke stride in the very first turn. Lehigh was directly behind and, seemingly, in deep trouble. Taken by surprise, Dancer instinctively yanked Lehigh to the right—and found a hole. Because of his own gameness and Dancer's meticulous training, Lehigh did not himself make a break. But he had lost many lengths to Coffee Break, the leader, and now Dancer proved just how brilliantly he had trained Lehigh and what a fine driver he is by overtaking Sholty and Coffee Break near the wire, winning by a neck in 1:59[3/5]. Mind you, Lehigh, an Adios colt who almost died after ripping his neck on a farm gate as a weanling, had already had 26 races in 1962. Despite this rugged campaign he was fittest and best on Thursday.
"This was a race with some glory to it," Dancer rightly said. Glory but little cash. Because of the 10-way money distribution brought about by the elimination heats, Lehigh earned a paltry $27,000 of the $75,000 total purse.
However, few horsemen wept for Stanley. He is the No. 1 menace to their own pocketbooks these days and growing more sinister all the time. Forget Lehigh for a moment. Consider what Stanley has for next year's Jug. Majestic Hanover was the top 2-year-old of the year before suffering a slight injury and will be formidable next season. James B. Hanover and Sly Yankee are also superb 2-year-olds. The Hambletonian? Stanley has Frosty Hanover who recently trotted powerfully in 2:05[2/5]. Dancer's aged trotter Su Mac Lad is king of the free-for-allers. As for Henry T. Adios, with whom Stanley began a Jug double last year, he has won more than $200,000 this year. Don't anybody weep for Stanley Dancer.