Two weeks ago hardly anyone around Delaware, Ohio had ever heard of a horse named Seatrain. Not many people in the whole harness racing fraternity had ever heard of the gelding, either. But Delaware is where they hold the Little Brown Jug, which, as the finale to the Delaware County Fair, is pacing's most down-home classic. And, as has happened before with outsiders in the Jug, Seatrain attained instant stardom last week, sailing to wins in both of his heats to take the $147,813 race decisively, and making believers out of even the most waryeyed of Ohio horse watchers.
The Jug was only the 10th start for Seatrain. As a 2-year-old he spent most of the time in his stable with a hairline fracture of the left front leg. Back in January his New York owner, trainer and breeder, Lee Benson, thought Seatrain was finally fit to race. But then he suddenly began limping. After frustrating months of X rays and examinations by assorted veterinarians, an inflammation was discovered in Seatrain's left hock. Eventually, a treatment was found and his racing career began—a mere four months ago.
The beginning was not auspicious: he lost his first start against a bunch of horses distinguished by the fact that none of them had ever won a race—which was downright embarrassing. But Seatrain came around, and exactly one week before the Jug, at Batavia, he set a world record for 3-year-old pacing geldings on a half-mile track. Until then Benson had never even considered entering him in the classic.
Act II of the Cinderella-in-horseshoes story opened last Wednesday morning, the day before the Jug was scheduled to be raced. Seatrain turned up his nose at breakfast; he had an intestinal disorder and a slight fever. That morning he struggled to a 2:35 in his mile workout and his temperature rose another degree. His handlers were still hoping to race but there was also a good chance Seatrain would be scratched.
The prayer in the Benson camp at that point was for foul weather, and there must be some clean living around those stables, because on Wednesday night about an inch of rain fell and when the downpour continued on Thursday the Jug was postponed for a day. Seatrain rested on his unexpected day of grace, ate a little bit and his fever subsided. By Friday he was feeling just fine.
With 19 entries, the Jug was split into two divisions and Seatrain had to go off against the favorites in the first flight. At the head of his competition was the renowned Nero, who had 28 wins in 31 starts, including the Cane Pace in June. Whata Baron, holder of national season records on half- and five-eighths-mile tracks, was also in the field as was Osborne's Bret, who had beaten Nero two weeks earlier.
Joe O'Brien, Nero's regular driver, had drawn a second-tier starting position and immediately found himself stuck in traffic and against the rail as Whata Baron swooped into the lead, with Seatrain tucked in behind. Whata Baron scorched through the half in 57 flat, driver Lew Williams being unable to hold the aggressive colt back. Just before the fourth turn Seatrain went around the tiring Whata Baron; Osborne's Bret followed outside of Seatrain and Nero tried to move out with them, but he couldn't make up the extra ground that far on the outside. Seatrain won in 1:57, 1½ lengths in front of Osborne's Bret, with 99-to-1 underdog Polaris Lobell charging into third. Whata Baron barely hung on to fourth by a head over Nero, who had been the 3-to-5 betting favorite. Only the top four horses from each division would move into the third heat, so that was all for Nero. "He just didn't have it today," said his caretaker, Ben Benjamin, with a philosophical shrug.
In the second division Albert's Star, a Canadian horse owned by Toronto Maple Leaf Defenseman Rod Seiling and driven by Keith Waples, paced even faster than Seatrain had, winning in 1:56[4/5]. He held off a challenge that started from 10 lengths back by BoBo Arrow, trained and driven by O'Brien, who had had no luck with Nero. O'Brien's double involvement created an interesting—and slightly tense—situation, because Cliff Baker, who owned BoBo Arrow, would have preferred O'Brien to be driving only his horse. Had Nero qualified for the third heat, Del Miller would have driven BoBo Arrow.
After two such fast heats, the raceoff was a test of stamina, and Seatrain proved the most durable. He took the lead at the gate and cruised to a relatively slow and easy 1¾-length victory in 1:59[4/5]. His first and final quarters were paced in 28⅕ which is speedy enough; it was in between these that he breezed. Second was Vernon Dancer with Polaris Lobell, Albert's Star coming in third. Whata Baron faded from second to last in the final quarter.
In winning, the long-striding Seatrain became the first gelding ever to take the Jug. He earned $54,689 for his afternoon's work—almost twice as much as he had earned in his first nine starts and he set four world records in the process: fastest 3-year-old gelding pacer on a half-mile track (breaking his own week-old record); fastest all-age gelding on a half-mile track and fastest 3-year-old and all-age gelding for two combined heats. Seatrain's driver was Ben Webster, who drove his first race at 16, nearly 20 years ago. "I'm simply overwhelmed," he said. "Two weeks ago Seatrain didn't look like Jug caliber at all. I never dreamed he'd be this good."
Added Benson, the delighted owner: "It's extraordinary that this could happen to a horse with so little experience. Seatrain is just a baby. He's not supposed to be beating horses like Nero." But then Benson thought for a second, looked out the corner of his eye at Seatrain, and said to no one in particular, "I'm sure glad he doesn't know that."