09/15/2016 10:59AM

Bergman: In Ohio, winning is everything

Derick Giwner
Wiggle It Jiggleit and Lost For Words hooked up in an epic stretch battle in the 2015 Little Brown Jug.

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

The quote credited to Vince Lombardi primarily but borrowed from UCLA football coach “Red” Sanders, strikes a chord this week as it pertains to harness racing and especially racing in Ohio.

For some reason, and maybe it’s the water, Ohio appears to be a state that brings out winning as more important than anything else. As our sport has expanded and contracted, and purses have escalated and fallen, it’s safe to say that not everything was about winning. Yet the visual from last Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio suggested that for at least two drivers behind two very special horses, it was “Only” about winning.

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It happened in Ohio a year ago when Wiggle It Jiggleit and Lost For Words hooked up in a “Winner Take All” battle in the final heat of the Little Brown Jug. Both Montrell Teague and David Miller, behind the two respectively, drove the race with a desperate intensity that suggested losing was not an option.

Maybe it happens in Ohio, and specifically this area of Ohio because of Ohio State football. Without question, Ohio State football is religion in this part of the land and fans support their team with the knowledge that nothing will stop them from the pursuit of victory. No ties, no losses, just win.

If there’s a game or a race, Ohio seems to bring out the best in both sports.

What we saw on Saturday in the Jim Ewart Memorial was what we need to see a whole lot more of if we’re going to generate additional interest in the sport, beyond its current core. There’s epic value in conveying the knowledge to potential fans that what they may have witnessed on Saturday actually happens most of the time at other racetracks and in other races.

Sadly while in Ohio it is instinctive to want to win a contest whether the purse is over $200,000 or under $1,000, the same has not shown to be true when the game is played in other locations.

What we get to witness all too often is the spectacle of horses playing follow-the-leader, a game that too many in this generation have never heard of or would care to learn.

One certain way to kill this sport is to bore the people that watch it.

Saturday, at least in one race in the town of Columbus, should have shown all those who participate at different levels what they need to be working towards. True, it’s not an everyday occurrence to put horses like Always B Miki and Wiggle It Jiggleit on the racetrack and have them go eye-to-eye for a full half mile. At the same time, there’s no reason to believe that evenly matched horses with extremely gifted drivers couldn’t duplicate these actions on a more regular basis.

When driving for checks is the only inspiration for going out on the racetrack, the performance suffers dramatically.

Eric Goodell, who drove Luck Be Withyou as hard as he could early to assure no worse than a pocket trip in the Ewart, got the ball rolling. Montrell Teague, who had convincingly defeated this group with Wiggle It Jiggleit a week earlier, wanted no part of anything but the front. Brett Miller, in the bike for the first time behind Always B Miki, gave the 5-year-old a drive that exuded his confidence in the horse combined with the urgency of having to win the race.

It would be fantastic if we could just bottle the energy, enthusiasm and desire to win from that race and spread it throughout the land. It’s a spirit derived from the single notion that winning is everything.

Paying off the top five, or paying off every horse in some stakes race, sends the message to those who participate and those who bet on our product that when it comes to harness racing, “Winning isn’t everything,” it’s just one of the options.

It’s not the notion that will get any of our race videos to go viral on Youtube.

The good news for those who love the sport is that another special race in Ohio is just around the corner. No matter who shows up to compete in the 2016 Little Brown Jug on September 22, there will be no substitute for victory.