Thin-Dime Murphy, a harness-horse groom in the town of Delaware, Ohio, was waiting when Hugh Grant turned up last week—just as he waits every year for the Pennsylvania horse owner to arrive for the Little Brown Jug. Thin-Dime took a big wrinkled hand from his deep coverall pocket and shoved it toward Grant, smiling and winking. "Well, well," he said slowly, "how are you? And how are them shoes doing?" Years ago Grant's son Andy was working for Del Miller's stable and came to Delaware with no money and holes in his shoes. Thin-Dime, in a rare moment of solvency, bought him a pair. "And I have paid him for those shoes every year since then," said Hugh Grant.
Grant paid again last week, and he will undoubtedly go on paying for years. The fact that Andy left the racetrack to become a stockbroker has, if anything, merely upped the price. "I wonder," Thin-Dime asks now, "how them shoes of mine are doin' on Wall Street?"
Thin-Dime was merely doing what almost every horse-loving citizen of central Ohio believes should be done on the occasion of the Little Brown Jug, second leg of the Triple Crown for pacers. Invaders from Wall Street or Roosevelt Raceway or even Pennsylvania are meant to be hustled, needled or, ideally, defeated on the track. Ohioans consider themselves the sole owners and protectors of the best traditions of harness racing. You may hear a lot about those expensive horses bred in Kentucky or Pennsylvania. Ohio, they remind you, breeds more Standardbreds than any other state. Those purses at Roosevelt or Yonkers may be twice as big as the Jug's $84,778 pot last week. "But don't let anyone kid you," said Driver Jim Hackett. "This is the pace that counts—for anyone from Ohio and, hell, for most anyone else, too." When Hackett won this year's Jug with Samuel Huttenbauer's Best of All, Thin-Dime Murphy—without even a nod to George M. Cohan—chortled: "When you take your horses outside Ohio you're just campin' out."
Local hopes were not especially bright early in the week, mainly because Best of All was facing Romulus Hanover, winner of the first Triple Crown race, the Messenger, and one of the fastest pacers of all time. In addition Trainer Billy Haughton brought two of Romulus' capable stablemates from New York, and Hackett and most of the people in Delaware hinted darkly of a big-city conspiracy against them. It was an unfair charge; Haughton's three horses had different owners, and he had no intention of using the other two to help Romulus win. "If I ever started doing that," he said, "I sure wouldn't have the owners of the other two colts very long."
October 1, 1967
Hackett's supporters gathered early Thursday morning near Best of All's stall. "You can bring the Jug back to Ohio," one said, "no matter what those city horses try to do." Hackett said, "I'll sure try, but there's three of them and only one of me." A few staunchly loyal Ohioans predicted that he would get help from two animals named Redigo Adios Bill and Jerry Gauman. They came from the neighboring towns of McCutchenville and Washington Court House, but they unfortunately had never indicated that they could pace very fast. Ohio's honor clearly depended on Best of All, last year's juvenile champion, and on Hackett, a skillful horseman who grew up about 35 miles from Delaware in London, Ohio. "I know Romulus is very fast," Jim said. "But he's not too smooth-gaited. He can make mistakes."
A few hours later a steady rain forced Jug officials to postpone the race until Friday. Since everyone in the area gets the afternoon off on the Thursday of the Jug, and most of them had arrived at the county fair track laden with food and drink, the disappointed citizens soon launched what may have been the longest cocktail party in the history of central Ohio. By evening countless people were being carried or helped from picnic sites and bars, many offering to wager huge sums on Best of All. Only a few horsemen found more sober pursuits around Delaware; they met with F. Lee Bailey, new attorney for their national association, and Bailey brought along his celebrated client from Cleveland, Dr. Sam Sheppard. Haughton looked at Bailey's motel room and recalled, "I stayed here in 1964 when I won the Jug with Vicar Hanover." Sheppard said, "That was the year I got out of the jug."
By posttime Friday the track was dry and the weather cloudy and cold. The crowd was smaller, since even in Delaware some bosses refuse to grant two-day holidays just for a horse race, but the mood was the same: visitors to the barns showed respect for Romulus and downright love for Best of All. During the warmups Haughton spoke with Del Insko, who drove Nardins Byrd for him, and with Johnny Chapman, who handled Meadow Paige, but he gave no orders. Chapman wondered what Billy himself planned to do, since Romulus had drawn the extreme outside post. "I don't even know yet," Haughton said. "I'll have to see what develops."
What developed gave Billy no choice. Romulus hit his head on the gate before the start and had to be eased back as Nardins Byrd took the lead. Hackett, leaving from the sixth post with Best of All, found a perfect spot, third along the rail. Once Romulus got going Haughton drove him up on the outside toward the lead. Then, inexplicably, Romulus Hanover went off stride. The brilliant burst of speed that had won 14 of 16 starts for him and subdued Best of All in five of their six meetings this year suddenly became a rough, floundering effort. He recovered fairly quickly from the break but never raced smoothly for the rest of the heat. Best of All took the advantage and rushed into the lead after half a mile.
Haughton made one more desperate drive at the three-quarters, and then any doubts about collusion should have been quelled, as Insko cut out in front of him with Nardins Byrd. ("I drove him like he was my own horse," Del said. "That was the idea, wasn't it?") Romulus weakened once more, and Best of All paced strongly through the short stretch to hold off Nardins Byrd by a neck.
The second heat should have been even easier for Best of All, but Hackett made a costly mistake—one that almost anyone else who has seen Romulus would also have made. Romulus took the lead after a quarter, and Best of All, pacing smoothly along the rail, waited behind him. Approaching the three-quarters, Insko moved Nardins Byrd from third place, and Hackett chose to let him go. To Jim's surprise, Nardins Byrd moved easily to the front and Romulus again weakened badly, shuffling Best of All back to fourth before Hackett could get off the rail. Once clear Best of All closed very fast on the far outside, but Nardins Byrd had already opened an insurmountable lead. The useful bay colt, a $2,500 yearling bargain for Owner Arthur Nardin, stole the heat.
"Who in hell would have moved off the rail?" Hackett said. "Here I am, right behind Romulus, and he can outbrush every horse I've ever seen. I figured I could wait till he beat off Nardins Byrd and then go out after him."
Haughton was just as surprised. "My horse wasn't rough-gaited that time," he said. "He just didn't show any speed, and he's never done that before." Then he looked at Romulus, who was shivering in his stall, and called for his veterinarian, Dr. John Steele. It took them only a minute to decide that the colt was sick. Calmly and quietly Haughton walked toward the paddock judge to scratch the fastest horse he's ever driven. Owner John Froehlich's reaction again showed why he is one of the most deserving men who ever owned a great horse. Froehlich won one Jug 12 years ago, but was not there to see it. This time he had brought a large entourage from Brookville, N.Y. "Anything you and Billy decide is fine," he told Steele. "I'm in no hurry to run him if he's not right."
With Romulus out the third heat was virtually a match race between Nardins Byrd and Best of All. Eddie Cobb took an. early lead with Honest Story, but Hackett made a decisive move near the quarter to take command. Moving from third on the last turn, Nardins Byrd gave his usual game effort but weakened near the wire. "After that bad luck in the second heat," Hackett said, "I knew I had the best horse, so I took the lead early to stay out of trouble. I never did have to whip him in this heat." Hackett and Huttenbauer, a popular sportsman from Cincinnati, agreed that it was their finest moment in 18 years together, and Del Miller spoke for many horsemen when he said, "It's always a good thing when people like these win a big one."
But Miller, like Grant, is a Pennsylvania outsider. It took Curly Smart, the colorful horseman who won the very first Jug in 1946 and is now semiretired in Delaware, to sum it all up for his son-in-law Hackett: "You flimflammed those New Yorkers on the right day and in the right place—right here at home."