Buckeye Believer

Driving Bythemissal, Ohio native Chris Page fulfills his Jug dream

by Gordon Waterstone

Ever since he was a young boy growing up in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, just 30 minutes from the fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio, Chris Page had dreams of someday driving the winner of the Little Brown Jug.

Page, who is universally considered one of Ohio’s leading drivers, came into this year’s Little Brown Jug week with hopes of capturing not only the Little Brown Jug, but also the Jugette, the companion race for 3-year-old filly pacers that is conducted the day before the Jug, on Wednesday

afternoon. Both of Page’s Ron Burke-trained drives—Sea Silk in the Jugette (as a $15,000 supplemental entry) and Bythemissal (as a $45,000 supplemental entry)—were likely to be the betting favorites, adding opportunity but also more pressure for Page to win both and join Billy Haughton (1974) and David Miller (2011) as the only drivers to win the Delaware classics in the same year.

Page’s hopes for the double were dashed on Wednesday when Sea Silk, who easily captured her elimination, was caught at the wire and finished second to Treacherous Dragon.

Page shook off that loss and turned the tables the following day, directing 2-5 betting favorite Bythemissal to a hard-fought victory, winning by three-quarters of a length over Fourever Boy in 1:51.1.

“The Jug was at the top of my bucket list,” the 38-year-old Page admitted afterward.

Page also admitted that the night before the Jug was hard for him after losing the Jugette earlier that day.

“Wednesday was a little tough,” he said. “The first elimination, my horse won in 1:50.1 and she felt great. I was confident. It was weird because they were talking to me after the elimination like I already won the Jugette. I’d never been there before so I thought that was natural.

“I was definitely overconfident in the final going around the last turn and lost track of Dexter Dunn and Treacherous Dragon. If I had a redo, I would have kept closer track of Dexter behind me and maybe not have taken off so soon. I was a little bit hard on myself.”

Page said he then tried to turn a negative into a positive.

“What I learned from the Jugette was to not count your chickens before they are hatched,” he said. “On Jug day, we won the elimination and I didn’t talk to anybody. I let the other connections do the talking. I wanted to stay focused all the time. The day before was a little bit feeling like the cart was before the horse, so I switched things up on Thursday.”

Page said Jug day started off on a high note when he received a surprise from his wife, Brianna, and their toddler son, Carter David.

“My wife got Carter colors but I didn’t know it,” said Page. “On Jug day it was weird because everybody was hanging around the barn. I went in my tack room to change into my colors, and at the same time my wife and Carter go in the feed room and she puts his colors on. I walk out of my tack room and turn left, and there’s my son with my colors on saying ‘Dada’ and running to me. My emotions moved to tears. This is cool, this is what it’s about—being a dad and moments you cherish. There was no doubt whose son he was.

“Bri (Brianna) knew Wednesday night was tough for me; people were wanting to talk about [the narrow loss in the Jugette]. I felt it was my fault. So I’m getting my colors on trying to get pumped and focused for the day, and then that happens. It was an omen that it was going to be a good day.”

Bythemissal, whose earlier victories this year included the Adios and Milstein Memorial, led wire-to-wire in his Jug elimination to score in 1:51.3. He drew post two for the final, with Fourever Boy, who won the second Jug elimination, drawing post one.

In the final, Page settled Bythemissal in the pocket behind the Dunn-driven Fourever Boy, and he waited patiently to make his move, finally tipping to the outside at the three-quarter-mile marker. By the time they reached the top of the homestretch, Bythemissal had edged past Fourever Boy. Bythemissal had the momentum, and his winning margin belied his strong finish. Past the wire, Dunn extended his hand out to Page for a congratulatory fist bump.

“Dex’s fist bump, that was cool,” said Page about the gesture from the defending three-time Driver of the Year. “He said, ‘Congrats, mate!’ Dexter is one of the best in the game right now, if not the best in the game, and for him to congratulate me, that was very cool.”

After the celebrating was done in the winner’s circle, Page said his night was spent at his home in Delaware—he moved just four miles from the fairgrounds five years ago—eating pizza and playing euchre with some family and friends. He said the quiet night gave him a chance to reflect on what he had accomplished just hours earlier.

“Looking back, finishing second in the Jugette and then winning the Jug, it was a pretty good week,” said Page, whose resume shows more than 6,100 victories and $59 million in purse earnings in a career that began in the early 2000s. “But at the time on Wednesday when I got beat in the Jugette, I felt like it had something to do with my driving. I took it a little bit hard. On Thursday, by losing the Jugette, it multiplied by about 100 the pressure on myself.

“I reflected that night (after the Jug) on where I started, where I’m at, and where I want to go from here. It was a lot to take in, but it really felt good eating that pizza. I just felt accomplished. I felt that all the long days, all the traveling I’ve done my whole life feeling like a gypsy sometimes, trying to make money and hustle, all paid off.”

Page didn’t grow up in a fam-ily heavily involved in harness racing. His parents were not involved in the sport; his only exposure was through some relatives.

“I had uncles who were hobby horsemen; they had regular jobs but had racehorses,” said Page. “My dad, David, passed away when I was a senior in high school and my mom, Linda, is retired. She doesn’t miss a race of mine.”

Page said he played hooky in school so he could attend Little Brown Jug day with his family. He saw his first Jug in 1994, when the race was won by the Mike Lachance-driven Magical Mike.

“I just thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever done,” remembered Page. “Just walking around and seeing the horses. This was before the Jug and Jugette barns were built, so they were all in regular barns. They had the horses in regular barns and roped off, and I was just a little kid and the trainers let me go back there and pet them. I thought if I raced horses, this was the one race I wanted to win.”

While in high school, Page worked for a local veterinarian and in a pizza restaurant. He purchased his first horse in partnership with his uncles and the owner of the pizza place, and that’s when he began jogging horses.

“We had a little luck with that horse,” said Page. “Once I got that horse, I started doing that and school, and taking this serious. What helped me was when I worked for the vet at Scioto Downs so I knew all the trainers on the backside. So they gave me a shot.

“It’s all about timing. It was right when a few of the top drivers had left (the state), so it gave opportunities for us young guys. I was there at the right place and the right time.”

Page won his first race in 2001. After attending The Ohio State University for three years to become a veterinarian, he decided to concentrate on racing horses.

“The first year was slow, but I didn’t care where I had a drive,” he said. “I would drive to Maine or Spain to drive horses. I would go anywhere to drive.”

Page said his slow start was a benefit in establishing his career.

“I’ll be honest with you, the horses I started driving when I first started racing, that helped me out,” he said. “When I first started driving, I was driving the bottom of the barrel. I learned how to lose and took it pretty good before I learned how to win. When you start off losing and you can figure it out that you can’t win all of them, when you do start winning it feels very good. You can take the losses just as well as you can take the wins.”

Page also remembers advice his mother gave him.

“My mom’s been my No. 1 fan since the day I was born, and she’s always said to me to always have a positive attitude and work hard, and that’s my guidelines from Chris Page 101,” he said. “Try to stay positive and don’t be afraid to work. Always have a good work ethic and it will eventually pay off. People will see you’re out there working your tail off, and guys like to give chances to people who are out there grinding.”

Page says he spends time preparing for the races.

“I read the programs and watch videos,” he said. “An NFL quarterback doesn’t go into the week without studying film. I do the same. I watch the replays. My routine when I get home is to hang with my son until bedtime, have a snack and watch the replays.”

Page’s first Little Brown Jug drive came in 2014 with the Ben Davis-trained Rediscovery; they finished sixth in an elimination and failed to advance to the second heat. Fast forward eight years to 2022, and Page was standing in a jubilant winner’s circle after capturing the pacing classic with Bythemissal.

“It was a lot to take in,” said Page. “I was just trying to process everything, that I just won the Jug. All the people were screaming. And then making sure you thank the right people because I couldn’t have been there without them.”

And just because Page has achieved his goal of winning the Jug, don’t count him out for more.

“To win the Little Brown Jug from where I started, I’m very happy with myself,” he concluded.

“But I’m not done by any means.” HB

 

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

 

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