by Dean Hoffman
They said it couldn’t be done; yet Life Sign did it.
If there is one undeniable maxim in harness racing, it’s that on a half-mile track a horse cannot race parked outside with no cover for virtually a mile and still win; yet Life Sign did it.
And he did it in the biggest race of his life facing the best colts of his class.
The lion-hearted colt’s victory in the 1993 was memorable for many reasons, but mostly it was because Life Sign had everything going against him and yet he still won. In doing so, he gave Ohio trainer Gene Riegle his first (and only) Little Brown Jug victory.
John Campbell, harness racing’s greatest reinsman, took no credit for Life Sign’s win, acknowledging that it wasn’t a great drive on his part but it was certainly a great effort for Life Sign.
Coming into the 1993 Little Brown Jug, the quicksilver colt Riyadh had won two legs of the Triple Crown. He was part of a powerful entry by controversial Canadian trainer Bill Robinson. Riyadh’s entrymate Presidential Ball wasn’t exactly a slouch either. He’d already won the North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace.
Defeating either one of them would be difficult for Life Sign, but defeating both seemed like a near impossibility.
Riyadh and Life Sign both won elimination heats, so the stage was set for the final. When Riyadh drew post one, the edge fell to him and he was made the favorite.
Driver Jim Morrill, Jr. shot Riyadh to the front at the start with Life Sign unable to wrest the lead from the quick colt. That left Life Sign on the outside when Presidential Ball slipped in on Riyadh’s back.
Driver John Campbell looked for a hole along the rail and found none. Just past the opening quarter, Life Sign found cover and paced along the inside for a few seconds, but then Campbell knew he had to be back out in the clear. There was no cover for Life Sign and his cheering section groaned when they say Life Sign parked out at the half-mile and three-quarter pole. No colt could survive that trip.
Turning into the stretch, Riyadh held a clear lead and it was time for Life Sign to fold. He had to be tired.
He was tired, but he hadn’t lost his desire. He never stopped trying and he simply wore down Riyadh in the final step as Campbell thrust his whip in the air in jubilation. Onlookers simply couldn’t believe what they’d seen.
Noted owner George Segal was both the breeder and owner of Life Sign and he’d raced the colt’s mother Three Diamonds when she won the Jugette in 1982. He was overjoyed with this victory.
During the winner’s circle ceremonies, Gene Riegle kissed the Brown Jug symbolic of his horse’s victory. It was truly a highlight of Riegle’s Hall of Fame career.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s