Delaware County Fair

September 14-21, 2024

Delaware County Fair

September 17-24, 2022

Expected $1 million purse could be a game changer for Little Brown Jug

by Brett Sturman – Harness Racing Update (July 21, 2023)

When it was announced this week that the purse was expected to be raised to $1 million for this year’s Little Brown Jug in September, I was reminded of a scene in the film, Seabiscuit. The idea was for a non-Eastern track to offer the biggest race purse in American history to attract the top horses in the country. There was a quote in there that was something to the effect that an elitist East might have had all their blue blood, but that their money was just as good as the others.

In a stunning move, the Little Brown Jug is making a similar proclamation by shattering not only all other Little Brown Jug purse records but is going straight to the very top of purses offered anywhere for sophomore pacers.

The purse increase to $1 million is obviously meaningful from a monetary standpoint but may even be more impactful symbolically. Through the years, the purse of the Little Brown Jug has remained at a consistent number. And those numbers have been pretty well on par with most of the sports other 3-year-old major races. What has hampered the event more so in recent years is the longstanding tradition of the Little Brown Jug giving way to modern day circumstances around same-day heat racing, competing stakes schedules and the nature of half-mile racing. The Jug has already made concessions around some of those concerns such as eliminating a potential third heat. Now, how much of an equalizer will $1 million be as an offset for remaining reservations?

Those at the Little Brown Jug had long fought to make the Jug the richest pacing event in North America. Working with both horsemen and legislative groups throughout the state of Ohio, the purse increase announcement has come at a much-needed time.

Last year in 2022, the Little Brown Jug drew just 11 starters, two of which were late supplements, Pleaseletmeknow and eventual winner, Bythemissal. With a $1 million purse, the hope now is to not only increase the quantity of entrants, but the quality as well. Bythemissal was a rocketing star at the time of the race last year, but it lacked star power from other major 3-year-olds at the time, Beach Glass and Pebble Beach. As another example, since Meadowlands Pace winner Courtly Choice won the Jug in 2018, there hasn’t been a Pace winner that has even started in the Jug, let alone won it.

It may now all be different this year. North America Cup winner It’s My Show is already nominated to the Little Brown Jug. Same goes for other top 3-year-olds, Cannibal, Voukefalas, Meadowlands Pace runner-up Hungry Angel Boy, and a host of others. Top 3-year-olds not eligible, but thanks to another recent change, could supplement, include the sport’s new #1 rated horse, Confederate, as well as Fulton.

The supplement fee is a hefty one at $45,000. But as already part of the race conditions, that amount is no different after the purse increase announcement. Now, with eliminations reported to go for $50,000 with the balance going to the final heat where a purse would then be $850,000 or $900,000, depending on the number of eliminations needed, a horse would have far more leeway in being able to earn back the supplement fee. Even a fourth-place finish in the final heat would probably do the trick.

There’s been some all-time greats who have raced in and won the Little Brown Jug throughout its storied history and there’s an element here of restoring some of that prestige. Even though the Jug or any half-mile race may never be a particular sire-making race, horses who do win the Jug should be held in higher regard. There’s been many instances of Jug winners who shortly thereafter go to sale or eventually wind up in claiming races; things you rarely see from other classic winners. Winning the Little Brown Jug for $1 million seems like an accomplishment that should be right up there with any other race offered anywhere.

The record Little Brown Jug purse prior to this year was $677,000 in the Jug edition won by Wiggle It Jiggleit in 2015. Coincidentally, that race is regarded by many as not only one of the greatest Jugs ever, but one of the greatest races in all of harness racing history. Now at a purse of $1 million, could the level of horses and dramatics often produced from the Jug top even that race? Will It’s My Show come? Can Confederate be lured? To quote the same film as prior, how can they resist?