Jug Week to Remember

Ron Burke finds key to Lou’s Pearlman and colt captures Jug

by Gordon Waterstone

Lou’s Pearlman’s Little Brown Jug victory on Thursday, Sept. 23, at the Delaware County (Ohio) Fairgrounds capped off a record-breaking week for trainer Ron Burke, but the newly named Hall of Famer admitted afterward as he stood in the winner’s circle that as he watched his colt and Perfect Sting hit the wire together, he had flashbacks of the 2020 Breeders Crown 2-Year-Old Colt Pace final when his horse Summa Cum Laude and Perfect Sting finished in a dead heat for first.

But with the way the entire week had gone for the Burke Brigade, why worry?

On Monday of Jug Week it was announced that Burke had been elected into harness racing’s Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, Burke watched ceremonies in the Log Cabin at the fairgrounds as his parents, Mickey and Sylvia, were welcomed into the Little Brown Jug Wall of Fame. On Wednesday, the entire Burke team celebrated as Scarlett Hanover won the Jugette. So why sweat a tight photo finish in the 76th Little Brown Jug, especially with the way the week had gone?

Good fortune for the Burke Brigade continued when the photo finish sign came down on the toteboard and Lou’s Pearlman’s number was put up as the winner, the stable’s record-breaking 13th win for the week in Delaware. The win also gave Burke and driver Yannick Gingras their third Jug title, joining Limelight Beach (2014) and Filibuster Hanover (2017).

“They hit the wire and I didn’t know,” said Mark Weaver—who, along with Mike Bruscemi (as Weaver Bruscemi LLC) and Burke Racing Stable—owns Lou’s Pearlman, as well as Summa Cum Laude.

“Even on the replay, standing in the hospitality tent, half the people are saying (Perfect Sting), half the people are saying (Lou’s Pearlman),” continued Weaver. “I’m thinking, would I take the dead heat? No, I don’t want a dead heat; I want a win.”

The classic finish was set up after Lou’s Pearlman and Perfect Sting won their $132,360 Jug eliminations in 1:54 and 1:54.1, respectively, over a track surface rated as “good” after a persistent rain the day before. Also, with a temperature of just 53 degrees, Jug Day itself was the coldest since Ralph Hanover won the 1983 renewal.

Perfect Sting, driven by David Miller, drew post one for the $397,080 final, with Lou’s Pearlman drawing post two. Miller protected his inside position from the get-go with Perfect Sting, with Gingras settling in the two hole with Lou’s Pearlman. In fact, at the :28.1 quarter, the field was lined up in post position order. As Perfect Sting hit the half in :57.2, movement began behind, led by driver Andy McCarthy, who tipped Whichwaytothebeach—second to Lou’s Pearlman in the Jug elim—first-over from third.

At nearly the same time, Gingras—also a newly named Hall of Famer—popped the pocket ahead of McCarthy.

“Perfect Sting is a great horse, but he’s not one to pace away from anybody,” said Gingras. “He waits a little bit sometimes. Not in a bad way, but he’s a fighter and wants to fight horses. I knew that if I sat behind him he was never going to open up by five for me to get out of the two hole, so I figured if I sat there I’d be locked in for the duration.”

“He got pretty fired up that second heat,” McCarthy explained of his decision to go three wide with Whichwaytothebeach. “He was grabby the first half of the mile. I didn’t anticipate Yannick coming, so I thought once I moved him first-over and get him out there I’d get him to relax a little bit. It was one of those deals where he was either going to make a break or I was going to shut him off trying to hold him in there any longer anyways. So it was time to go. I was going to do more harm than good trying to hold him on Yannick’s helmet any longer than I did.”

Burke said afterward that he was thrilled with McCarthy’s bold move.

“I loved it,” he said. “Let’s race. Let’s not sit around, let’s race.”

Weaver said he watched in awe as Gingras abandoned the two hole.

“Yannick fed him racetrack and man, that took a lot of guts to make that move,” said Weaver. “It was a pretty cool race.”

After the :29.1 second quarter, the tempo picked up with a :27.4 third quarter as the battling Perfect Sting and Lou’s Pearlman were joined by the three-wide Whichwaytothebeach. Miller said he was caught a bit off guard by McCarthy’s move. Afterward, when he learned the reason why, he understood.

“I was a little surprised,” said Miller. “We were going slow and I didn’t know his horse was being a bully following the cover, so I don’t blame him for going three deep; I would have done the same thing. But then the three of us took off and were going hard, and we went hard the rest of the way.”

The top trio were side-by-side-by-side in the final turn, and at the top of the stretch were still on equal terms. But down the lane Perfect Sting and Lou’s Pearlman pulled away for a bit of separation from Whichwaytothebeach. Midway down the stretch Perfect Sting seemed to hold the advantage, but Lou’s Pearlman gave a final surge and put his nose on the wire first in 1:52.4.

“Honestly, in the last turn I thought I’d win by two,” said Gingras. “But Perfect Sting fought me the whole stretch.”

Like Gingras, Miller believed he was on his way to his record sixth Jug victory, breaking a three-way tie he has with five wins with Billy Haughton and Mike Lachance.

“Going into the last turn I was holding him off no problem and Sting was pacing,” said Miller. “We came off the turn and I raised the lines on him and he sprinted right off. I thought, ‘Just hang in there. C’mon, hang in there.’ But Yannick kept inching back up and right at the wire it looked like his arch was ahead of my arch, but I know Sting is a big horse. It’s tough to take. It’s a real tough loss. But we’ll gather back up and try it again; that’s all we can do.”

After a five-win campaign last year at 2—including a 1:49.1 effort in a Bluegrass division in early October at The Red Mile that was the fastest by a freshman male pacer in 2020—Lou’s Pearlman went winless in his first five starts this year. In his sixth start in a July 10 overnight at The Meadowlands, he earned his first win of the year, with his 1:47.4 effort that night still the fastest by a 3-year-old male pacer in 2021.

Burke then brought Lou’s Pearlman to his home base near The Meadows to race in the Adios, where the son of Sweet Lou finished third in his elim and then sixth the following week in the final. And those two efforts led to a pair of changes. Burke added the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, and he tinkered with the equipment, with one major change.

“Little equipment changes and boom, this is the horse we thought he was,” said Burke. “He’s wearing a jaw rope now to keep him under control. I didn’t believe in it. I didn’t like it because I like horses to be extra aggressive, but he was too aggressive. But I put one on and I can’t believe it worked. I can’t believe it. Now I have five wearing it. (In the Adios) is when we found out he bled. We put him on Lasix and he’s been a different horse since then.”

In his first start on Lasix and with the jaw rope, Lou’s Pearlman romped to a nine-length, 1:48.4 win in the $100,000 Hempt consolation and a near gate-to-wire 1:49.4 score in the $253,000 Pennsylvania Sires Stakes final at The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono. He then won a Keystone Classic division in 1:50.4 at The Meadows that served as a final prep for the Jug.

Gordon Waterstone is a USTA editorial specialist. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com

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