For 75 years the Little Brown Jug trophy has been a staple of the sport
story by Jay Wolf
What was supposed to be a celebration of the Diamond Anniversary of the Little Brown Jug ended up being the complete opposite. Spectators were prohibited, the celebration was muted, and smiles were hidden by masks thanks to COVID-19. But one constant remained, as it has for the last 74 years: a 12-inch-tall piece of crockery that is the Little Brown Jug trophy.
There may be bigger, flashier, and more extravagant racing prizes, but none possess the lore of the simple yet revered jug.
When Joe Neville and Hank Thomson created the pacing classic, they decided to have the fans be responsible for naming the event and eventually creating the trophy.
With more than 4,000 entries from all over the world, the contest awarded the $100 first prize to Maj. Lanning Parsons. The retired U.S. Calvary officer suggested “Little Brown Jug” to honor the 1880s pacer by the same name and because of its publicity and advertising value. Parsons even offered an idea for the trophy, which he envisioned as a “richly jeweled brown jug engraved with the names of donors, owners, and race winners.”
In a stroke of irony, Parsons died several weeks before the first edition of the event. Therefore, he never witnessed the race he was responsible for naming.
Neville loved Parsons’ suggestion, but asked Earle “Circus” Sortman, a Columbus jeweler, trophy dealer, and ticket broker, to obtain a more normal-looking crock for the prize. Sortman worked with the R. B. Powers Company of Ashley, Ohio, just 11 miles from the Delaware County Fairgrounds, to secure the jugs that would be received by the winning owner, trainer, and breeder.
“R. B. Powers was a cobbler and started producing show ribbons and trophies in 1929 for the Ashley Junior Fair,” said third-generation owner Ed Powers. “He worked with ‘Circus’ every year to get the jug.”
In the media coverage of the first Little Brown Jug in 1946, articles noted the “handsome” silver coffee set that was presented to the connections of Ensign Hanover but did not mention the now-famous trophy.
The sterling silver set eventually turned into a punch bowl until it was discontinued several years ago.
“The silver bowl was becoming very hard to find,” Powers said. “A couple of years ago, we designed and created a wooden base that better highlights the jug.”
When asked if he had a favorite Jug winner, Powers was very diplomatic. “I root for a dead heat every year.”
The Stanley Cup of Harness Racing
The hockey prize, donated by Lord Stanley of Preston who was a Canadian governor general, may be the most recognized trophy in team sports. Each year, members of the winning team get to spend a day with the cup to celebrate as they wish and some of those days are legendary.
In another interesting twist of fate, Lord Stanley, like Parsons, never witnessed a championship game nor attended a presentation of the trophy he was responsible for.
A couple of gentlemen have had the distinct pleasure of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup and the brown jug.
William Wirtz, whose family owned the Chicago Blackhawks, won the 1977 Jug under the banner of Ivanhoe Stables with Governor Skipper and was in attendance to accept his jug from Gov. James A. Rhodes, who, for the record, presented the most jug trophies.
Fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard was co-owner of the 2008 Jug champion Shadow Play. Savard won eight Stanley Cups as a defenseman and two as the general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
The Trophy Means a Lot
Former Delaware County Fair Manager and Marketing Director Phil Terry saved the iconic trophy from a potentially embarrassing situation. During his annual post-Jug Day tour of the fairgrounds one undetermined Friday morning, Terry found a jug resting on a mound of dirt at the motorsports complex behind the famed Log Cabin.
“It was just sitting there in the dirt,” he said. “I cleaned it up and returned it to its rightful owner. I am sure they all had a wild night.”
When pressed for additional details, Terry protected the identity of the guilty parties.
“That wasn’t my jug,” said Adriano Sorella, who hoisted the trophy in 2013 when Vegas Vacation defeated 18 rivals, including stablemate Lucan Hanover.
As a marketing professional, Sorella also likes the branding and advertising value of the simple trophy.
“The trophy means a lot to an owner,” he said. “[Winning the Jug] is a big accomplishment. You have to have a horse that is good enough to get there. You have to be able to get around a half. You had to win your division and come back in the final. There are a lot of ifs there.”
If winning the Jug wasn’t tough enough, as a Canadian owner crossing the border, Sorella was asked by the border patrol if he had anything to claim.
“I joked, ‘Just one little brown jug,’” Sorella said. “After I explained it, the border officials were excited for me.”
The More the Merrier
Thanks to breeding a record 15 Little Brown Jug champions—from Ensign Hanover (1946) to Filibuster Hanover (2017)—Hanover Shoe Farms owns a record 15 jugs. The famed nursery has its trophies displayed in an area outside of the office of Russell Williams, the USTA president, as well as the farm’s president and CEO.
Ten of the prized trophies are now in the collection of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y. Thanks to generous donations from past winners like Castleton Farm, W.H. Cane, Jodi Dancer and Dorothy Haughton, many of the early jugs are together again.
The jugs presented to Ensign Hanover, Good Time, Keystoner, Quick Chief, Noble Adios, Torpid, Shadow Wave, Bullet Hanover, Lehigh Hanover, and Vicar Hanover now all reside in Goshen.
One of Your Very Own
Maybe the most heartwarming story came last year when Southwind Ozzi’s winning trainer, Bill MacKenzie, posed with his jug and then gave it to then 12-year-old Justin Turnbull. The young fan from Nova Scotia had parlayed his Christmas wish into a week-long trip to central Ohio.
MacKenzie met Turnbull in the Jug Barn earlier in the week and invited the young fan into the winner’s circle on Thursday, Jug Day.
After the formal presentations and pictures were completed, MacKenzie took a moment to pull Turnbull aside.
“Here, this is yours,” he said. “You’ll never forget your first Jug.” Everyone remembers their first Jug and that will always remain the same.
Jay Wolf is the publicity director for the Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.