by Dean Hoffman
The 1975 Little Brown Jug was postponed by persistent Thursday rains and moved back to Friday. That night horsemen gathered in a local hotel to enjoy some camaraderie and adult beverages.
Lee Benson, a veteran New York City horseman, asked casually during a conversation, “Has a gelding ever won the Jug?”
The question was of considerable importance to Benson because he was starting his first horse ever in the Little Brown Jug in a gelding named Seatrain. Benson was also the breeder and owner of Seatrain.
No, Benson was told, a gelding had never stood in the Jug winner’s circle. Privately, no one thought that record would fall in ’75 because the Jug seemed at the mercy of Nero, the pacing Pegasus driven by the legendary Joe O’Brien. O’Brien had won the Jug two years earlier with a dead-lame Melvin’s Woe and had triumphed in 1958 with Shadow Wave. In 1975, there was no better driver in harness racing than Joe O’Brien.
Nero had employed his long-stride and high speed to dazzle observers early in the ’75 season, but he was not without his flaws. He wore a lot of headgear to allow him to pace past shadows, footprints, and other hazards that he saw or imagined on the track.
Nero was heavily favored in his elimination heat, but he failed to fire when O’Brien asked him to accelerate. That allowed Seatrain to scamper to an upset victory for catch-driver Ben Webster. Not only was Nero the beaten favorite, but he finished fifth and shockingly failed to qualify for the second heat. That changed the entire complexion of the Jug.
The second elimination heat went to Albert’s Star for Keith Waples with O’Brien second with Bo Bo Arrow.
In the second heat, Seatrain drew post one, a considerable advantage at Delaware. Ben Webster had earned his stripes racing on the half-mile tracks of New York and he knew that the front end was the best place to be on a twice-around. He sent Seatrain to the front at the start, let him loaf through a pedestrian second quarter in :32.2, and sprinted home an easy winner.
While Seatrain was standing in the winner’s circle, Nero was standing in his stall on the backstretch. And no one in Delaware that day wore a bigger smile than Seatrain’s breeder-trainer-owner Lee Benson.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s