When the Federal Depository Banking Company on North Sandusky Street in Delaware, Ohio closed some years ago, a saloon took over the Parthenon-like building and hung a neon jug out in front of the columns. No one in this staunchly Methodist town seemed to mind, probably because in Delaware The Little Brown Jug—the horse race—is an annual highlight of the county fair and a sporting event that receives national attention. Each year $1 million worth of horses come to Delaware for the week's Grand Circuit racing, and on Jug Day the big-city drivers, with flashy diamond rings, fly into the local airport in chartered planes. They are there because of the traditions of harness racing, sentiment for its country heritage and the $100,000 purse that goes with that old Brown Jug these days.
Last week's classic drew 17 3-year-old pacers from as far away as Quebec, and the field was split into two divisions, the first four finishers in each division returning to race off for the top prize. Colts trained by Billy Haughton—Rum Customer and Bye and Large—were favored. Haughton chose to drive Rum Customer, leaving his stablemate to George Sholty, but there is little difference between the two pacers. Early in his 2-year-old season Rum Customer appeared the better but then he lost his form, and Owner Lloyd Lloyds, a manufacturer of women's coats for J. C. Penney and Sears, Roebuck, decided to sell half of him. Actually, Lloyds swapped 50% of the 2-year-old for a 2-year-old airplane, a twin-engine Skymaster, that was worth about $40,000. Louis Mancuso, Haughton's pilot for many years, was looking for a racehorse, and Lloyds, at the time, was looking for an airplane. So the deal was struck. Horsepower for horsepower, Lloyds appeared to have the better of the bargain, but by Jug time one had to wonder. In five months Rum Customer had won 10 races and $121,997, been in the money in 17 of his 18 starts and raced faster than any pacer this year, going the mile in 1:56 at Indianapolis. However, the colt caught a virus ten days before the Jug and had only one testing workout in preparation.
Bye and Large had been sick with the same virus but recovered to win the Jug Trial handily on the Thursday before shipping to Delaware. Bye and Large has the high, unnatural gait of a drum major, but he can wheel deftly around half-mile tracks like the one at the Jug, and he came close to a world record on such a track last July.
Challenging the favorites was Meadow Brick, a colt who supposedly suffered a heart attack last February in Florida and later in the spring was reported to have died. But he was back on the racetrack in August, and the story then was that he had had a transplant. "The scar has healed up real good," the boys around Delvin Miller's barn say as they curry the colt's chest. Meadow Brick did indeed have heart trouble but not enough to call in Dr. Christiaan Barnard. After a seizure in Florida the colt spent six weeks in the University of Pennsylvania equine hospital. Cardiograms were taken, and when he recovered he was sent to the farm to rest. Uneasy insurance men with stethoscopes hovered around until Miller canceled the life insurance policy on the colt and began treating him like an animal again. Meadow Brick was hardly seasoned enough to defeat Haughton's entry at Delaware but he had finished stoutly in the Jug Trial and figured to improve.
Then there was Nevele Romeo, a $55,000 yearling and half brother to pacing champions of 1966 and 1967, Romeo Hanover and Romulus Hanover. The colt never was as good as his brothers, and he had been slowed as well by injuries. Stanley Dancer, his driver, said Nevele didn't belong in the Jug. He explained that the colt had been sold a few days before to the man who supplies feed to the barns at Monticello Raceway, and the new owner wanted him to start.
There were other proud owners who wanted to show off their colts in the Jug, though they might have been winning more with them that week in races at the Ashland or Dover fairs. Six Ohiobreds were in the race. The best, Batman (he has a stablemate named Green Hornet), is bad-legged, but he had raced well in good company when the track was soft and wet. "You can write your story ahead of time," Delvin Miller told a reporter, "if it starts to rain."
It rained all right, but a day too soon for Batman. A downpour started on Wednesday after the first two races, and the rest of the card was called off. As the cars wound out of the fairgrounds, an elderly man stood in the rain at the gate saluting each group as it left and saying, "Thank you for coming."
On Thursday—Jug Day—47,500 people crowded the fairgrounds. Through the morning the clay track dried, and by the fourth race harrows were kicking up dust. Two races later, in the Old Oaken Bucket, a world record was set by a 3-year-old trotter.
Watching Bye and Large go to the post in the first division of the Brown Jug, Billy Haughton was confident. The track was in good condition, and although his colt had a poor starting spot—in the second tier—there was little competition in this division. Nevele Romeo was the second choice at 7 to 1.
At the start, however, for no apparent reason, Bye and Large went off stride. A quick Ohio-bred named Adios Waverly shot to the front. When Sholty got Bye and Large back on stride, it was too late. He finished a dismal last, beaten more than 15 lengths. No one caught Adios Waverly, who won by 2¼ lengths and paid $25.20. An 11-to-1 shot finished second and a 60-to-1 shot driven by the young French Canadian, Herve Filion, was third. Filion is the leading U.S. driver this year with 244 victories and he hopes to break the one-season record of 312. "I had not driven here before," Filion said after the first Jug dash. "My horse is not much. I came here to parade with the others—for the privilege—and I got a third I did not expect."
With Bye and Large eliminated, Haughton was careful as he reined Rum Customer onto the track for the second division. Like Bye and Large, the colt had a bad post position, No. 7. And as things turned out, Haughton was unable to get his horse to the rail until the race was three-quarters over. In the first quarter the colt nearly put a foot through Miller's sulky wheel when Meadow Brick broke and veered to the outside. Down the back side and around the turn, Haughton was parked three wide as two long shots burned themselves out going the half mile in 59[1/5] seconds. Rum Customer seemed to lack his usual burst of brilliant speed, but as the leaders dropped back approaching the three-quarters, he surged to the front. He won comfortably by more than three lengths. Isolator Hanover, an 84-to-l shot, was second, and Batman was fourth.
"My colt is not sharp, not keen today," Haughton said, returning to the paddock. "He was gutty to have won that."
In the raceoff the crowd was more confident than Haughton about Rum Customer. As the pacers warmed up, the tote board showed Haughton's colt was 1 to 9, Adios Waverly 6 to 1 and everything else in the field 20 to 1 or better. (Odds at Delaware roller-coaster like soybean futures. A horse early in the week paid a record $188 for show—only one $2 ticket was sold on him.)
At the start Adios Waverly burst into the lead, Driver Wendell Kirk again hoping to steal away, but Batman went with him and they sped to the half in 58[4/5]. Rum Customer was tucked along the rail fourth. After Batman had softened up Adios Waverly, Rum Customer went to him, and on the final turn Haughton's colt pulled away. He won by three lengths, in 1:59[3/5]. Adios Waverly plodded in a weary seventh.
The Brown Jug purse put Haughton over the million-dollar mark in earnings this season, and late into Thursday night he was celebrating, suitably, with a jug. But Owner Mancuso had hardly a taste of success. He left immediately after the race to fly George Sholty to Yonkers Raceway for the evening's card there. Perhaps he was looking to swap his new Cessna for a piece of another horse.