I asked cousin Tim to reflect on our family’s recent excitement in winning the Little Brown Jug because I wasn’t there. (Yes, this is the same Tim that had the Camero). Horses have been a part of our family traditions for years and Tim’s dad has played a central role in that.
The third Thursday of September has always been a special day for me: that’s the day every year that The Little Brown Jug is raced at the Delaware County Fair. This year was even more special as I was going to watch dad’s horse race in the Jug. It is more than just my dad’s horse as three of my uncles also own a portion of the horse, as well as a few other groups of people.
But to me, I was going to see dad’s horse. As I often say, “Dad has had horses longer than he’s had me,” and I’m 43. Charlie has been at it a while. At various points in my life, I would tag along for the ride, but I never got bitten by the bug quite like dad. Mom claims I learned to read and count from a race program (probably true) and I’ve been to at least 20 county fairs in Ohio.
I attended my first Jug in the late summer of 1990 and watched Beach Towel win it. The following year was Precious Bunny and the greatest start I’ve ever seen in the Jug. In 1993, Life Sign was parked every step of the mile and still won the Jug, one of the greatest Jug races ever. Just typing those memories gives me chills even now. The Jug has been a big part of my life to this point.
Now we fast forward to Thursday, September 18th, 2014 and the 69th edition of the Little Brown Jug: my 25th straight Little Brown Jug, and my father’s 50th. Like so many Jug days in the past, the crisp late summer morning without a cloud in the sky started by us lugging a cooler of beer to our chairs on the backstretch. We got situated, chairs claimed, shook hands, gave hugs, then collectively headed to the Buckeye Valley Athletic Boosters barn for breakfast. We return from breakfast and the chairs are filled with more recognizable faces, all smiling, and all looking forward to a lot of fun that day. So far, this story can be any of the 25 mornings I’ve spent at the Delaware County Fair.
Wendy and I take our annual visit to the Jug barn to go see all the world class, million dollar horses, and suddenly this year is different than all the others. Judy is standing next to one of the horses’ stalls. That’s new. The horse is Limelight Beach, one we’ve spent the better part of two years watching all over the eastern part of the country. It starts to sink in, we’ve got a horse racing in this thing.
The races finally get underway, the first heats of the Jug aren’t up until the 17th and 18th races of the day. That’s a long wait for the Wingfield Brothers of Kenton, Ohio. I’ve seen dad before a lot of big races, but not so much of Tom and Bob, so that was kind of fun. Dad, he just shuts down. The more nervous he gets, the less he talks, the less he wants to get up, the less he wants to even be at the races, I think. Bob paced a lot. Not really pacing back and forth, but he couldn’t sit still, he was all over the place. Basically the exact opposite of dad. Tom…didn’t seem any different. Not one bit. He was every-day Uncle Tom. Seeing the contrast in the three of them was almost as entertaining as the first 16 horse races.
Somewhere around the 10th race, Limelight comes out for his warm up. We all take notice, I snap a few pictures of him, and we begin to soak it in. Dad gets quieter, Bob walks somewhere, Tom opens another beer. The rest of the family…well, we’re a noisy people, so we made noise. And we all opened another beer.
Finally, the first division of the Jug is up. I watched, but I honestly can’t recall what all happened during the race. I know the favorite was on top at the head of the stretch and made a pretty bad break. That allowed the second favorite to cruise in for the win. One of the favorites to win the Jug was out of the final.
Suddenly the nerves really kicked in: it’s time for the 15th race. Limelight Beach has the 2nd post position, but the pre-race favorite, McWicked, was inside of him. Prior to the race starting, the choices seemed to be leave hard at the start and make McWicked beat you later, or follow McWicked out of the gate, sit in the pocket, and wait for space to open up to beat him. Limelight didn’t get much choice in the matter, McWicked got out of the gate pretty well and Limelight had to settle into 2nd on the rail. There are much worse places to be than 2nd on the rail in the Little Brown Jug.
An interesting note: the Brothers discussed those race options with the trainer, Ron Burke, as “a way to get into the second heat.” Ron answered with, “I’m not here to just get to the second heat, I want to win this thing.”
Limelight sat second on the rail for well over three-quarters of a mile. As they went into the final turn, McWicked started to push the pace a little. Limelight was still buried on the rail but there’s a little daylight starting to open between the 3rd and 4th place horses, so driver Yannick Gingras angles Limelight through that little space and suddenly we’re at the top of the stretch, 3 wide, with a lot of pace.
Watching races on the backstretch at Delaware is a little different. For one, you’re a quarter mile of race track away from the finish line. Secondly, the horses disappear behind the tote board for a couple seconds and you can’t see them as they race down the stretch.
So from the backstretch we see Limelight get to open track, we see him starting to reel in the two horses in front of him, we’re yelling for him, he’s flying and… tote board.
Gone. No more horses. The race is still happening, Roger Huston is still yelling horse names, people are still cheering, but WHAT THE F*** IS GOING ON??!?!
They emerged from behind the tote board and Limelight has put his nose in front and is pacing right past McWicked and Somewhere In LA. Oh my God, we just won a division of the Little Brown Jug.
Pandemonium. One second I’m looking at Adam just yelling, the next we’re all running down the backstretch to get across the track to the winner’s circle. The winner’s circle of the Little Brown Jug. An elimination heat of the Jug, but it’s the Jug!
Leaving the winner’s circle I was walking near dad when he tracked down Ron Burke. Ron was looking for his first Jug win, too. He told dad, “Yannick thinks we have the best horse in the race. If we draw the rail he’s going to send him down the road.” Send him down the road is race horse lingo for go to the front and don’t look back.
Limelight Beach drew the rail.
We had two races to get nervous about the second heat. If we win the second heat, we’re Jug champions. If Let’s Drink On It wins the second heat, he’s Jug champion. If anybody else wins the second heat, we’ve got to do this all over again one more time in a race off of the three heat winners.
Before we know it, it’s time for the 18th race. Like a few hundred times before, I heard Roger Huston call out, “The gate swings into the stretch, and heeeeeeeere they come!”
The starting gate led the horses down the stretch, its arms swung closed, and Limelight was on top by 2 lengths before they got to the first turn. He was the only horse of the 8 to leave, and got to the quarter pole with no real challenge. From there, for all intents an purposes, the race was over. Limelight got his way the rest of the mile and kept his only real challenger locked in on the rail behind him, then paced off in the stretch to win the Jug.
As a horse race fan, the final of the Jug this year was pretty boring. Nobody left, nobody moved on the leader until the half, and with Limelight getting his way the whole mile you weren’t going to beat him in the stretch. His elimination race was much more exciting as a race.
As the son of a Wingfield Brother, the final was one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen. After years of watching horse races, it was finally our horse that dominated the field and won a no-doubter. I don’t know if I walked, ran, or floated to the winner’s circle this time.
Michele asked me to write this, and I’m glad she did. She asked for my perspective, and what it meant to me to see our horse win the Jug. I’m thrilled for my dad and my uncles – watching this horse the last two years has provided those three with a lot of time together – and to culminate in winning the Jug is just amazing for them.
For me, the Jug is a big deal. It’s the biggest harness race of the year, every year. I used to schedule a week off around the races in Delaware, but in recent years it’s been only Jug Day for me. The Jug is contested on a half mile, county fair track in some little midwestern Ohio town. It is as small-town and grass-roots as you can get. I watched my first Jug with a lot of my family, but most memorably my dad and my grandpa Bill. Grandpa was at the very first Jug in 1946, dad saw his first one in 1964, in 1990 I joined them, and in the next few years I hope my sons join me.
Roger Huston interviewed my dad in the winner’s circle and asked him why he and his brothers stuck with Limelight Beach when the other owners sold out a few months ago. Dad’s answer? “We stayed for this race right here.”