by Dean Hoffman
Everything Niatross did in his two seasons at the races was extraordinary.
From the first time he stepped onto the track as a promising 2-year-old, Niatross impressed knowledgeable horsemen and humbled his foes. Soon everyone recognized that Niatross was something very special.
The number 13 wasn’t unlucky for this great pacer as he won all 13 of his starts as juvenile in 1979. He was not only unbeaten, he was untested. Was there any colt his age that could threaten Niatross?
He took up where he left off as a 3-year-old. His first loss came when he fell over the inside rail at Saratoga Harness in July. It was a bizarre way for his unbeaten streak to end, but his next race raised more eyebrows when he broke stride at the Meadowlands and lost his second start.
So there were many questions about Niatross coming into the Meadowlands Pace, he dispelled all doubts with a smashing victory for trainer-driver Clint Galbraith. Now the Little Brown Jug loomed two months down the road.
Niatross was so dominant that only seven other pacers dared confront him in the Little Brown Jug. It was the smallest field since Bret Hanover had intimidated his foes in 1965. The others might as well have stayed in the stalls. They never had a chance. In the first heat, he eased to the wire in 1:55, the first time a horse had ever clocked such a fast mile on a twice-around track.
This is what the crowd came to Delaware to see: a champion in top form in a great race.
Denali had finished eighth and last in the first heat, but before the second heat his trainer-driver Doug Ackerman decided he had little to lose and he gunned Denali away from the starting gate, shocking the crowd, not to mention Galbraith and Niatross. The first quarter was clocked in :27.3 and Denali was on top—but not for long. Galbraith knew that the front end was the best place to be when you have the best horse and he marched to the front. The race was effectively over.
Niatross hit the wire in 1:54.4, lowering the world record he’d set in the first heat. It was a two-heat world record and just another day in the life of the almighty Niatross.
Two weeks after his Jug triumph, Niatross became the breed’s first sub-1:50 horse when he clocked a 1:49.1 mile in a time trial at The Red Mile. He went on to win the Triple Crown and Horse of the Year honors. Many consider him the greatest pacer of the Twentieth Century.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s