by Dean Hoffman
Officials at the Delaware Country Fair faced a serious financial concern as the 1971 Little Brown Jug drew near. They were assured of big crowds on Jug Day because Albatross, the brightest star in the Standardbred galaxy, was coming to the Jug. But he would be such an overwhelming favorite in the betting that he would likely create a minus pool, causing the fair to actually lose money instead of profiting on the betting.
Racing officials decided that they couldn’t take the financial risk. They took the unusual step of barring wagering on Albatross in the Jug. It seemed prudent at the time. There was simply no way Albatross could lose. He’s humbled his foes in race after race that season.
But Albatross came into the ’71 Jug a tired horse. His trainer driver Stanley Dancer had fulfilled pledges to race him in the Jug Trial at Hazel Park, and in the Jug Preview at Scioto Downs in the weeks leading up to the big dance at Delaware. Dancer always cooperated with tracks in showcasing his stars and knew that Albatross was a big drawing card for Midwest tracks. The Jug Preview, contested in a pouring thunderstorm, was held just five days before the Jug. Dancer and Albatross would pay the price for that splash through the slop on Jug Day.
There were two elimination heats that year and H T Luca won the first . Then Albatross won his elimination, but not in his usual commanding fashion. He edged Nansemond but simply didn’t respond as readily when Dancer urged him. Stanely Dancer realized something was wrong.
He found out just how wrong things were in the second heat when Albatross was beaten by Nansemond, a robust Tar Heel colt driven by Canadian driving ace Herve Filion. Now a raceoff among the three heat winners was needed.
Before the raceoff, Filion relaxed in the paddock and told reporters, “The only way I can beat him [Albatross] is by being on the front end.”
That’s exactly where Filion put Nansemond in the raceoff and Dancer tucked Albatross neatly on his back. The tempo of the race slowed with a middle half-mile in 1:05. Midway down the backstretch the secone time, Filion shouted at Nansemond and loosened the lines. Nansemond shot forward. Albatross attacked and made a valiant effort to overtake him, but it was all in vain.
Nansemond cruised across the wire a solid winner.
A dejected Dancer made no excuses after the race. “It wouldn’t have made any difference if I’d pulled earlier. He just got the jump on me.”
The Jug loss would haunt Dancer until the day he died, but he and Albatross got a measure of sweet revenge at The Red Mile in his next race when Albatross paced two heats in 1:54.4, the two fastest race miles in Standardbred history.
Another measure of sweet revenge was that Albatross later sired five Little Brown Jug winners.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s