As September approaches, the focus turns towards the Little Brown Jug. Can the detractors be far behind with their usual complaints regarding the race? No new complaints, just the usual comments how a race over a half mile track shouldn’t be part of the triple crown; the race should be moved to a Saturday night and/or transferred to a big time track; the race should be changed to a single heat format with eliminations the week before; attendance doesn’t matter, it’s the handle which counts.
To which I reply, “We won’t be satisfied until we break everything that works in this sport, will we”? I imagine if these detractors had their say, they would move the Gold Cup and Saucer from Prince Edward Island to Ontario. Sometimes smaller is better. Over at the R2 Collective, there is a story regarding the particular charm Old Home Week and the Gold Cup and Saucer race projects, how this $60,000 race in a province with only 135,000 people draws more than 5,000 people and is the industry’s best kept secret. Considering the population the Gold Cup and Saucer draws from, it proportionally draws more people than the Hambletonian, Meadowlands Pace, North America Cup, and probably every other harness race in North America, with the possible exception of, you guessed it, The Little Brown Jug.
The Little Brown Jug has done quite well for itself (thank you very much) over the years, drawing more than 40,000 people each year to attend the spectacle which is Jug Day at the Delaware County Fair. People look forward to the race year after year. They don’t mind the race has two heats on the same day; heading out to the fair grounds on a Thursday morning to attend the races for the next eight hours; managing to get time off from work to attend; and they enjoy the great view they get of the action over that ‘hated’ (by our racing elites) half mile oval. No, a lot of people may not be betting hundreds of dollars on the extended Jug card, but we get something else out of it. We get a lot of people being exposed and paying attention to our sport; if only for a week. Just like the Kentucky Derby.
Sure, I imagine if somehow we were able to convince the owners of the Little Brown Jug to move the race to a track on the East Coast we could get the purse up to a million dollars or more, possibly even keeping the race on a half mile oval and it can become like most of our big races in North America, raced in front of a few thousand people live (with luck) but at what cost? Losing a race which represents the roots of harness racing?
Other than getting the purse increased greatly, did harness racing get what it wanted by moving the Hambletonian to the Meadowlands? Yes, we got the race more media attention (after, all we pay for the television broadcast with anemic ratings), but certainly attendance figures in the 25,000-27,000 range was not anticipated; we had visions of Derby-size attendance. When you think of it, the race never really caught on in the New York City metropolitan area. Clearly just having a race with a huge purse is not the answer.
Rather than trying to improve the Little Brown Jug, the powers that be would be better served taking their cues from the organizers of the Little Brown Jug and Gold Cup and Saucer. Who knows, maybe we should ask them to improve our so called ‘elite’ stakes races. It seems they have a better track record than the racing elite does. Until then, let’s leave the Jug alone, it is one of the few bright spots we have in American harness racing.