09/17/2014 3:50PM

Gisser: The best week of the year

Derick Giwner
Jug Week in Delaware, OH is always a big event.

It’s the best week of the year. Jug Week. I have been attending the Jug since 1977 and have missed only a handful, all in the last several years due to my commitments as a high school soccer coach. Sometimes real life intervenes in our fun. But I will DVR the CBS SportsNet broadcast and watch it when I get home. I may even stop at a Fazoli’s for carryout pasta – gotta support the sponsors, you know. For me, the Jug is more than just a great race. It’s the reason I am here.

It was 32.3 years ago and I was a struggling stand-up comic, working the hotel lounge circuit in the Midwest. A typical week was Kearney, Nebraska one night, then to Norfolk, Nebraska, then to Grand Island before a three-show weekend in Lincoln. Or maybe Keokuk, Iowa, Kirksville, Missouri, Rock Island, Illinois and a weekend in Bettendorf, Iowa. Fortunately the guy who booked The Comedy Caravan always put me in his Columbus club on Jug week and his Lexington, Kentucky club the next.  I was paying the mortgage (barely) and keeping the lights on (most months), but I was not exactly a superstar.

I had been doing some writing on a number of topics and had started to sell a few articles, so I contacted Chip Diehl, who was the editor of Horseman and Fair World at the time, to see if they accepted freelance articles. He made no promises, but I wrote “Because It’s Jug Week,” and they used it to lead their 1992 Jug section. During the week at Delaware Marty Adler, who hosted the Jug broadcast for TSN and ESPN, tracked me down and we filmed an off-the-cuff version of the article and my National TV debut came on ESPN that Jug Day. Granted, due to the race-off (Fake Left won that year) nobody was actually watching. And that pretty much summed up my comedy career too.

A bunch of articles followed; then an award winning radio show; then a long stint as a jack-of-all-trades at Northfield Park. And now here I am, a columnist for DRF-Harness and a part-time project manager for The Harness Horse Youth Foundation. And it’s all because of the Jug.

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When I started attending the race, there was no account wagering, or simulcasting. Heck, there were not even past performance lines in the program! Back then 50,000 people (really) showed up at the Delaware County Fair to see great horse racing and a rare format – where a horse must win twice on the same day – and wagered an average of $20 per person. There weren’t even cell phones. I told my dad to watch me on that ESPN broadcast via pay phone.

Today, the attendance is perhaps a third of what it was, but the wagering handle is way up and thanks to slots, this year’s purse of $647,500 is the highest in the races’ storied history. The Board of Directors stuck to their guns and did not change the format, despite pressure to do so, and now the Jug purse is back in the upper echelon of all sophomore pacing races. Its prestige never waned.

So let’s take a look at this year’s race. There are two eight horse eliminations, worth $103,000 each, and it’s not just the winner’s share of the purse that is important. The Jug features a preferential draw, with heat winners drawing for the inside two posts, the runners-up for three and four, and so on. So it’s not enough to just get into the second heat. You need a good draw to succeed on Delaware’s half-mile saucer shaped track.

The first elimination appears to be the weaker of the two on paper, not that it’s a bad race. Cane Pace champ Lyonssomewhere has drawn post seven. While I don’t see him winning his elim from out there, he does have great gate speed, as he showed in the Cane, where he had the same post, albeit on a 5/8 mile track. He has never raced on a half, but I think he gets the lead and yields late. My pick in the first elimination is At Press Time. For the first time in a long time he does not face McWicked or Somewhere in L A. Look for him to fly late, although he will need some cover to carry him, which is not always the best strategy at Delaware.  Let’s Drink On It has drawn poorly all year, and may be able to use the rail to advance.

The second elim is a duel between a pair of sophomores ranked in the Top 10 of the sport, McWicked and He’s Watching. Throw in Somewhere in L A and you have a heck of a horse race. McWicked has the rail and that makes him the one to beat.  He’s Watching is versatile, but the six hole makes him vulnerable. I think he edges out Somewhere in LA for a $4.40 exacta.

In the second (don’t call it final) heat, He’s Watching and Lyonssomewhere will both get improved posts and one of them will upset McWicked, forcing a race-off between that winner (who gets the rail), the favorite and At Press Time. In the end, class prevails and McWicked wins the second leg of the pacing Triple Crown and stamps himself as the prohibitive favorite for divisional year-end honors.

That’s it for this month. Enjoy the Jug. Now go cash, even if it is only a $2.60 exacta.

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