by Dean Hoffman
W.N. Reynolds was one of the most beloved figures in harness racing for many decades. He and brother R.J. Reynolds started a tobacco company in North Carolina that made them millionaires many times over and allowed “Uncle Will” (as he was affectionately known to many) to indulge his love for harness racing.
Reynolds enjoyed a Hambletonian victory in 1933 with his homebred lass Mary Reynolds and his horses were fixtures in Grand Circuit stakes for decades. In 1951, Reynolds had a powerful trio of sophomore pacers in Tar Heel, Solicitor, and Direct Rhythm. Reynolds died in early September that year and his trainer-driver Delvin Miller withdrew them from an important stakes race while funeral services for Reynolds were underway.
The Reynolds trio thus came into the Little Brown Jug lacking a final prep and Miller was clearly concerned about their fitness. Kingpin among the trio was Tar Heel, a sturdy black devil. His stablemate Solicitor had more sheer speed but could be tough to drive at times. Miller opted to drive the difficult Solicitor and gave the drive behind Tar Heel to Del Cameron. Benny Schue handled Direct Rhythm.
Tar Heel won the first heat easily in 2:01 while Direct Rhythm was third and Solicitor, who got off to a bad start for Miller, finished fourth.
In the second heat, Solicitor was all business and went to the front . He paced easily through fast fractions and seemed to have victory assured when Tar Heel came calling on the outside. Tar Heel edged past Solicitor and hit the wire in 2:00, the first time a 3-year-old had ever gone that fast on a half-mile track. Tar Heel went to the winner’s circle as a world champion.
Solicitor stood second in the summary with a 4-2 placing while Direct Rhythm finished third in both heat.
Astute observers questioned if Miller had driven Solicitor as aggressively as possible and decades later the great horseman admitted that he hadn’t. Then he gave his rationale.
Miller reasoned that the Reynolds horses were couple in the wagering, so the public betting was not shortchanged if Tar Heel won instead of Solicitor. He further pointed out that if Solicitor won the second heat, another horse might win the third heat and that would require a fourth heat raceoff. Miller worried that his horses would not come out of a four-heat race in top form because they’d missed an important prep.
When the sun went down that day in Delaware, Tar Heel was the Jug champ and the fastest colt ever on a half-mile track.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s