by Dean Hoffman
Eleven horses were entered in the 1970 Little Brown Jug. But only two really mattered.
They were Columbia George and Most Happy Fella.
Yes, the other nine were talented and possibly capable of springing an upset, but before the race experts saw the Jug as a duel to the death between Columbia George and Most Happy Fella. And that’s exactly what the afternoon of September 24 produced.
A rivalry had developed between the two 3-year-old pacers in the summer of 1970 with Columbia George being the Peoples’ Choice while Most Happy Fella was the Pundit’s Choice.
Columbia George comprised literally the one-horse stable of veteran trainer-driver Roland Beaulieu. He and his wife, who was affectionately known as “Blondie,” toured the Grand Circuit with their colt, who gained the admiration of all who saw him race. Columbia George managed to race gamely on two bowed tendons, perhaps because Roland and Blondie carefully ministered to his every need.
By contrast, Most Happy Fella was a member of the powerful Stanley Dancer Stable, then the most dominant operation in harness racing. Dancer was clearly the superior driver to Beaulieu and, unlike Beaulieu, he was accustomed to racing in the sport’s biggest events.
Dancer’s owners could afford to buy him any horse he wanted. But Most Happy Fella was owned by Dancer’s wife Rachel and cost only a modest $12,500 as a yearling. Still, many in harness racing resented the dominance of Dancer and the average fan understandably rooted for the little guy in the race.
Columbia George had public sympathy and support while Most Happy Fella had the stats. The pressure was on Most Happy Fella as the day before the Jug he’d been sold to Blue Chips Farms in New York for a cool $1 million.
Most Happy Fella took the first heat in 1:57.1, just a tick off the world record set by Bret Hanover five years earlier.
In another stirring duel inthe second heat, Columbia George boldly through the stretch to nip the favorite as one racing fan joyously yelled, “Columbia George beat ‘im, by God!”
In the third heat, the two colts were such heavy favorites that both went off at odds-on in the betting. Beaulieu sent Columbia George away like a rocket from the rail and Dancer tucked Most Happy Fella in on his back. Leander Lobell, driven by Delaware legend Curly Smart, was parked outside Columbia George.
With a quarter-mile remaining, the positions were unchanged and Dancer was desperate to shake loose with Most Happy Fella. He knew that Delaware had a short stretch and he needed racing room.
“Everywhere I looked that day Curly Smart was in my way,” Dancer said many years later.
Leander Lobell tired just enough to allow Most Happy Fella to spring out of the pocket and go after Columbia George. In another hard-fought duel, Most Happy Fella got up to win by a neck in 1:57.3.
Both colts deserved to win, but it was Most Happy Fella who stood in the winner’s circle. He went on to win the Triple Crown and become an enormously influential stallion.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s