Nothing changes at the Little Brown Jug. The scene remains the same, reproduced year after year as if it were on canvas: the green and white grandstand, rickety but neat, like an old man in a clean shirt and tie nodding in the Ohio sun; the dilapidated barns spotted with the shining tack and equipment of the prosperous horsemen; the rambunctious crowd that jams the backstretch, and the sedate, country folk who sit in lounge chairs along the track fence. Even the popcorn man is the same. Clarence Reiber has come to the Delaware County Fair each of his last 59 years, sleeping on a table below the grandstand and hustling popcorn and peanuts and scrounging for betting tips around the stables.
And the race last Thursday evoked memories, too. Billy Haughton won the $132,630 mile pacing classic for the fifth time in its 29-year history. He drove Armbro Omaha from behind in two consecutive heats to become the third man ever to win both the Hambletonian and the Little Brown Jug in the same year. The owners in his stable consider him the greatest thing since the tax deduction. One who stood near him in the Jug winner's circle said, "Billy, you find the horses and we'll buy them." Haughton smiled in the manner of a teen-age baby-sitter told that the refrigerator had an open-door policy.
During the Jug's first years, wives of the drivers and track officials gathered in the log cabin that still serves as the racing secretary's office and sang songs and read poetry—although anyone who was there is loath to admit it now and thus give away her age. Wayne (Curly) Smart, behind Ensign Hanover, won the first Jug in 1946 and last week, now 70 years old and retired as a driver, he was out at the racetrack early each morning, directing the maintenance of its fast half-mile surface. Nothing changes at the Little Brown Jug.
There are richer pacing races, but none has its unique character. "Where else could you have horses being walked through the betting lines on their way to the post?" asked Dottie Haughton, Billy's wife, watching the grooms push their way through the crowd jammed up in front of the mutuel windows along the backstretch.
Seventeen horses were entered this year, which meant splitting the race into two divisions, the top four finishers from each heat returning for the final. To win the Jug, a horse must win two heats.
The prerace banter listed Boyden Hanover as the favorite. Driver George Sholty originally bought the big colt for someone else, but when the prospective owner reneged, Sholty kept the horse, sold half of it, and he wound up with the 2-year-old pacer of the year last season. A story like this is why people sift through discarded mutuel tickets. Sholty showed up at Delaware dressed fit to win: white shoes, double-knit bell-bottoms, custom-tailored accessories and a lace shirt. "Remember the days when they all chewed tobacco?" asked an oldtimer.
Billy Haughton remembers. He won his first Jug in 1955. Now Billy's 20-year-old son Peter is a promising driver on the Grand Circuit himself. Peter has collected a quarter of a million dollars in prize money this season. Last month he won the rich and prestigious Prix d'Ete in Montreal, driving Armbro Omaha. In that race, his father drove Armbro Omaha to second place in the first heat. In the second, he won with the filly Handle With Care and decided to drive her in the final as well. Edgy because of his son's relative inexperience and wary of an owner's displeasure, Billy approached veteran driver and old friend Delvin Miller about steering Omaha in the final.
"Listen," Del told him, "you let Peter drive him. He can do as well as anyone." It is no coincidence at all that Peter's middle name is Delvin, but after he won the Prix d'Ete all notions of nepotism and favoritism were forgotten.
The Haughton stable had four horses entered in last week's Jug and on the morning of the race Peter was sitting in the stable's trailer in front of the barn, waiting for his father to arrive and tell him which horse he would drive.
"I'll drive Armbro Omaha," said Billy when he walked in. "I know you want him, but that's the way it is. You take Keystone Presto in the second heat."
In the first elimination, Catch Driver Mike Gagliardi guided Bret's Star, another Haughton entry, to victory in 1:58, catching favored Title Holder at the top of the stretch and winning by nearly six lengths. Bret's Star has a lot of speed but is sometimes unruly. "He shows so much speed that every once in a while he'll make a break," said Gagliardi.
The second elimination went the way Billy Haughton wanted it. Boyden Hanover took the lead just before the half-mile pole but Armbro Omaha caught him halfway up the stretch and won going away in 1:57. Young Peter, meanwhile, could do no better than fifth in the same heat with Keystone Presto.
For the final his father put Peter behind Belmont Shadow, the horse Billy had driven to a third-place finish in the first elimination. That gave the Haughton stable three horses in the showdown. It helped.
George Sholty pushed Boyden Hanover quickly on lop although he was trying to save him as much as possible. Bret's Star had started poorly and would never be a factor, so Sholty's scheme for making a stretch drive appeared sound. But after the half-mile pole, Pete Haughton came challenging up on the outside, his father right behind. Rather than let Pete take the lead, which would mean the Haughtons could put a tag on Sholty reading "Do Not Open Until Christmas," Sholty urged Boyden Hanover on.
Billy did the same thing to Armbro Omaha, and he responded beautifully, even though they had to go three-wide to get up to Sholty and Boyden Hanover. They caught the leader at the top of the stretch and from there until a few steps before the wire the horses were neck and neck. The time was 1:58[4/5].
"I had him where I wanted him when he went three-wide, but he was too strong," said Sholty. "It's hard when you have to beat three of the Haughton entries, but that's racing. You have to beat them all."
And that is what Billy Haughton has been doing this year. At the Little Brown Jug, nothing had changed.