DELAWARE, Ohio -- The home team won the Little Brown Jug.
Trained by Ron Potter, who trains year-round at the tiny Delaware County (Ohio) Fair, Big Bad John won the Little Brown Jug Thursday in straight heats.
"To me, it's like Ohio State winning the national championship," said Potter, who was born in Ohio and now resides in Delaware, among other things, the birthplace of Rutherford B. Hayes.
Potter had just about everyone in the town of Delaware (34,753) rooting for him and spent the days leading up to the Jug answering phone calls from the many well-wishers. His barn was adorned with a sign from a local watering hole, wishing him and Big Bad John good luck.
Potter is not among the big names when it comes to harness trainers and the Ohio racing circuit, outside of the Jug, is considered small time. But in Big Bad John Potter had a horse with the type of talent and speed it takes to win the Jug, one of the most prestigious events in the sport. The horse was 14 for 19 lifetime and was regarded as one of the top horses in the wide-open 3-year-old male pacing division.
To win the Jug a horse must win twice during the day, and the race begins with heats. The top four finishers from each heat return for a second elimination race and if that race is won by a heat winner the race is over.
With Dave Miller, another Buckeye, driving, Big Bad John was heavily favored in his heat and he won by three-quarters of a length over Something For Doc to advance to the final.
The other heat was won by Roll With Joe, who had captured the $1 million Meadowlands Pace earlier this year. He won by a quarter-length over Betterthancheddar.
Potter went into the second with a ton of confidence.
"I really thought he would be better in second heat than first," he said. "He always takes a little time to thaw out. After the first heat I was pretty confident I told Dave I thought he'd be really good second heat and that he would be ready to roll. "
The heat winners get to select their post positions and Big Bad John got the one post for the second elimination, which is usually a huge advantage.
Miller wasted no time getting the lead but faced early pressure from long shot Up The Credit. He shook him off, still had the lead turning into the stretch for the final time and then braced for the challenge of Roll With Joe.
Driven by Ron Pierce, Roll With Joe came out for the drive and had plenty left in the tank.
"I thought I had him," Pierce said. "When I tipped off his back my horse felt really good. I just couldn't go by him. It just didn't happen. My horse put in a great effort."
Said Potter: "I was screaming. There might be some of that wood from rail in my nails."
Big Bad John won by a head in the time of 1:50. He paid $4 to win. Roll With Joe was second best, finishing two lengths in front of Betterthancheddar. The attendance was 49,243.
"This is special; very special," Miller said. "I've known Ron Potter and [owner] Ed Telle forever and I am very happy for them."
The Jug win completed a huge week for Miller, who won the filly version of the race, the Jugette, the day before. He was the first driver to win both races in the same year since Billy Haughton in 1974. It was also his third win in the Little Brown Jug.
After accepting the trophy and talking to the media Potter was ready to go back to his barn and relax. He said he would enjoy a few beers and let the thrill of victory fully hit him.
"I can't believe the amount of support we've had the last couple of weeks," he said. "Everybody has been great, so supportive. I get cards and letters and my phone was ringing off the hook. They knew this was something special for me.
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