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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Billy Haughton: King of the Little Brown Jug

Bill Haughton is tied with Mike Lachance for the most wins by a driver in the Little Brown Jug at five. However, Haughton also trained a record six winners. Stanley Dancer is second in that category with four. Haughton drove in 28 editions; some years he handled more than one horse. His first was Ankaway in 1949 when he was 26-years-old, and his last was Panorama, in the final heat of the 1984 Jug when he was 60.

Good Time won that 1949 edition—the fourth—for Frank Ervin. Haughton managed to finish third in his second heat with the modestly skilled Ankaway. And it would be three years before he made it back to the race, this time with Wilmingtons Star, who won a heat and went on to win the Good Time Pace at Yonkers the following year. The 29-year-old was getting noticed. He led the nation in earnings; finished second in wins; and was the top driver at Roosevelt Raceway.

It took three years for all those accolades to translate into a win in the Little Brown Jug. It came in 1955 with Quick Chief, a quality pacer who took his division at two and three, won the Cane, and was the first sophomore colt to earn $100,000. 40,000 attended the race that year and there were 17 entered. Haughton was 32-years-old and regularly topping Stanley Dancer, Joe O’Brien and Johnny Simpson in wins and money.

Haughton had a couple of more shots at the classic in the 1950’s, his best being with the Jug Trial winner, Bachelor Hanover, a half-brother to Dancer Hanover. But Noble Adios, a full-brother to the winner of the 1954 Jug, Adios Harry, proved too tough. It would be 1964, nine years after his first win, that Haughton got his second with Vicar Hanover, a speedy son of Torpid. He and Combat Time, driven by Bruce Nickells, were co-favorites in the race-off at 4-5, but it was the 25-year veteran, Haughton, who slipped off the rail and took the prize. Despite the raw 50 degree temperatures, the race generated a record handle of $184,497. He was slated to start a five day suspension in New York the following day; the win made that a little more palatable.

The following year Romeo Hanover, who was so dominant that he was barred from the betting, won convincingly for George Sholty, while Haughton was seventh with the Tar Heel colt, Clay. Romeo had impressed Haughton as a freshman with wins in the Sheppard and the Roosevelt Pace, so he bought his younger brother Romulus at the sales for what he considered a bargain price of $35,000. Haughton said repeatedly that Romulus was the greatest horse he had ever driven, so it was particularly disheartening for him to have his star give him mediocre results in the first two heats and ultimately to be scratched from the race-off when it was discovered he was running a 104 degree temperature. The fact that the race was delayed a day due to heavy rain probably didn’t help matters any. Ohio bred and owned Best Of All won that Jug for Jim Hackett.

Ah, but all was not lost; the following year, when Haughton was 45-years-old, he got his third win with Triple Crown winner Rum Customer, who went on to be the fourth millionaire in the history of the sport.  He won each of his heats in 1:59.3, the final one at 1-5. Haughton won more than a million dollars in purse money that year, for the third time in his career, and in July of 1969 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Two months later he separated himself from fellow three-time winners Frank Ervin and John Simpson Sr. when he captured his fourth with Laverne Hanover, who won 22 of 23 starts the previous year and 21 of 28 at three.

During the next four-year stretch Haughton received the Award of Merit from the Grand Circuit for winning more top dollar races than anyone else in the sport, but that didn’t help him beat the likes of Most Happy Fella, Nansemond and Strike Out in the Jug. Although in the fifth year, 1974, when he was 51-years-old, Haughton experienced his most satisfying Jug Victory with the Airliner colt  Armbro Omaha, who had gone 2 for 17 as a freshman. This was the colt 19-year-old Peter got his first big win with when Del Miller convinced Billy to let the kid drive him in the Prix d’Ete. He won his division that year. This was Haughton’s fifth Jug win.

In subsequent years Billy tried his hand at winning a sixth with Bret’s Champ, Boehm’s Eagle, Windshield Wiper, Crash, Falcon Almahurst, Set Point, Trenton Time, Set The Style, McKinzie Almahurst, Ticket To Ride and Panorama, but none of them crossed the line first in the final. During this dry period, in January, 1980, Peter was killed in an automobile accident at age 25.

Haughton achieved that sixth training win with Nihilator in 1985. It was his first start over a half-mile track and the fleet son of Niatross won in 1:52.1 for Bill O’Donnell. Nine weeks later, 27 days after Haughton’s 62 birthday, Nihilator was retired with a record of 35 wins in 38 starts. And seven months later, while driving Sonny Key in the first Sheppard elimination at Yonkers, Haughton was rendered unconscious when thrown violently to the track. He succumbed to his injuries ten days later.

Bill Haughton participated in the Little Brown Jug most years between 1949 and 1964 and every year during the 19 year span from 1966 to 1985. We are approaching the 28th edition to be raced since he was taken from us. The fact that no driver or trainer has outdone him over all those years speaks to his greatness.

Joe FitzGerald

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