09/20/2013 3:04PM

The Bliss of Little Brown Jug Day


I’m not easily excited. And as much as I love harness racing, I can hardly recall ever going to the track and feeling chills down my spine. That is until Thursday on Little Brown Jug Day.

The Delaware County Fair doesn’t offer the best racing card or the highest purses. You get a grassroots experience with an actual crowd enjoying every bit of the action. There are no scowling faces or disgruntled bettors. Everyone in attendance just seems happy to be in Delaware, Ohio for a day at the races.

[DRF HARNESS: Sign Up for the FREE DRF Harness Newsletter Today!]

My chilling moment came right after the Winbak Pace. Two stellar 4-year-olds – Pet Rock and A Rocknroll Dance – had just completed a world record clocking on a half-mile track of 1:48 1/5. They were separated by a neck at the wire and despite the small five-horse field, the duo put on a show that will stick with me for quite some time. It was a world record worth recording, not one of those obscure records that seem to fall every time a race is contested. This one actually mattered.

As spectacular as the action was, the moment I want to hold onto forever occurred a few minutes after the horses crossed the wire. Pet Rock and hometown driving icon David Miller were making their way back to the winner’s circle and the estimated crowd of 44,000 erupted. Fans cheered, clapped and gave a standing ovation to the performers. As the roar from the crowd reached a crescendo, it was like a moment of bliss. It was a rare moment when I got to witness firsthand the appreciation people still have for the standardbred game.

These special moments occur too infrequently for me. Yes, we have Hambletonian Day at the Meadowlands and the North America Cup at Mohawk among other days when fans show their love. But as someone who is too young to have witnessed the glory days of overflow crowds and national interest in the sport, I am left to savor these small gifts that places like Delaware can deliver.

The Winbak was hardly the only race which provided excitement. Maven set a meaningful world record of her own and certainly for her connections. Trainer Jonas Czernyson’s Autumn Escapade, along with Mystical Sunshine, held the Delaware track record in tandem for many years. They were the fastest trotting mares on a half-mile track. But a talented young filly named Frau Blucher snatched away the record on Jugette Day and left the connections of Maven feeling somewhat empty.

That feeling lasted less than 24 hours. Maven’s scintillating 1:51 4/5 mile in the Miss Versatility demolished Frau Blucher’s 1:53 1/5 mark and put a Czernyson trainee back on top. Driver Yannick Gingras explained how he has driven Maven since she was a baby and how much it meant to set the record with her. Czernsyon’s wife, Christine, could be seen taking a picture of the track record sign that stands in the infield as a reminder of the old record her husband’s horse set. That memento is sure to sit alongside the picture she can take next year with Maven’s name on the sign.

For whatever reason, even the races which look to be yawners at Delaware can quickly become ingrained memories worth keeping. Two scratches in the first race on the afternoon card on Thursday reduced the field to just four. No one wants to see a short field walk around the track in single file alignment and no one at Delaware that afternoon had to. Mcalvin (Miller) and Storm The Beach (Gingras) battled head and head down the backstretch the second time and truly showed what racing can be like across the country if horses were actually “raced” more and “saved for trips” less. Strategy is a part of the game, no doubt, but aggressive moves make for a more exciting product.

I’ll have to wait another 363 days for more great racing from Delaware, but here’s hoping that my next set of goose bumps from racing is not too far off in the future.

On a final note, congratulations to the connections of Vegas Vacation on his Little Brown Jug win.

Details on Chantal Sutherland-Kruse's RUS try at The Meadows

Chantal will be on the track at The Meadows at approximately 2:55 p.m. on Monday, September 23. She will ride DW's NY Yank under saddle while on the trot. The time trial race will be on display after race seven on the card.

Sutherland-Kruse will wear a special HD helmetcam from Equisight so people will have the opportunity to get a first-person view of her attempt at breaking the North American record of 1:59 1/5 for under saddle racing on a five-eighths track.

Be sure to check it out.