The Little Brown Jug, an annual spectacle that takes place on the third Thursday after Labor Day, is a tradition steeped in history and a celebration of equine athleticism.
Named after a famous plow-horse turned pacer, Little Brown Jug, who was foaled in 1875, the race has been a cornerstone of American harness racing. Little Brown Jug, the horse, set a three-heat world record in 1881 and became one of the most well-known pacers of his era. The race itself was named through a contest hosted by the Delaware Gazette newspaper, and it has been capturing the imagination of fans ever since.
The Little Brown Jug is hosted by the Delaware County Agricultural Society and has been a staple at the Delaware County Fairgrounds racetrack in Delaware, Ohio, since 1946. Alongside the Hambletonian, a race for trotters, it stands as one of the two most coveted races for standardbred horses. The race’s significance is further amplified as it serves as an anchor for the Triple Crown of Pacing, which also includes the Cane Pace and the Messenger Stakes.
The Economics and Logistics of the Race
Participating in the Little Brown Jug is not just a matter of speed and stamina; it’s also a significant financial commitment. The final fee to enter the race is $7,000, and usually, between 15 and 20 horses are registered for the event. For those who haven’t paid any preliminary fees but wish to enter, a hefty supplemental fee of $45,000 is required. However, the gamble can pay off handsomely, as evidenced by the 2022 champion, Bythemissel, who was entered with a supplemental fee and took home around $320,000.
The race consists of two to three preliminary heats, each offering a winner’s purse of $50,000. The top four horses from each heat then advance to the featured event, which this year boasts a winning purse of $900,000, marking the first $1 million purse for the Jug.
The distance involved is one mile, or eight furlongs, on a left-handed track.
A Day at the Races: The Fan Experience
The Little Brown Jug offers a unique experience for attendees, many of whom arrive in the wee hours of the morning to secure seats. The cost of admission is $20, and fans are welcome to bring lawn chairs and coolers for a day of tailgating and festivities. In a quirky tradition, some even use chains and locks to secure their chairs to the fence around the racetrack, reserving their spots for the following year.
The racetrack itself is made of clay, not dirt, offering more give and making it easier on the animals. In case of rain, the track is covered with pea gravel to absorb water, ensuring that the races go on as planned.
Information about listening to the race online can be obtained here.
The Legacy Continues
The Little Brown Jug has come a long way since its inception in 1937 when the Delaware County Agricultural Society voted to move the County Fair to Delaware. Two years later, a half-mile track was built, setting the stage for decades of thrilling harness racing. The race has produced legendary winners, like Bythemissel in 2022 and Lou’s Pearlman in 2021, who have etched their names in the annals of equine history.
As the 78th running of the Little Brown Jug approaches on September 21, the excitement is palpable. Whether you’re a horse racing aficionado or a casual fan, this event offers something for everyone—a blend of history, athleticism, and community spirit that continues to captivate audiences year after year.
For more information on the Little Brown Jug and other harness racing events, you can visit the Delaware County Agricultural Society’s website.