little brown jug
The life of pacing champion Little Brown Jug is a rags to riches to rags story with a happy ending. It began in the hills of Tennessee, where this son of Tom Hal (the "Hal" pacing-line progenitor, also known as Old Tom Hal and Tom Hal, Jr.) and the mare Lizzie was foaled on April 18, 1875. As a yearling, Little Brown Jug was sold by his breeder, R. H. Moore, to Ozro Fry, the owner of Gibson's Tom Hal. The purchase price, somewhere between $27 and $50, was low even for the times, as the horse was described as being thin and covered with lice. Mr. Fry brought him back to health and then sold him as a two-year-old to Jim Welch, a sharecropper, who broke him to harness and used him for plowing his fields during the day and for transportation to church and social engagements during the evening. During this period the horse often endured long hours hitched to a post in bad weather. Mr. Fry re-purchased Little Brown Jug when he was a 3-year-old and introduced him to racing in 1879. He was eventually sold, as a gelding, to H. V. Bemis and then to Commodore Kittson, both prominent patrons of the sport. After his racing days were over, Little Brown Jug was sold numerous times for lower and lower prices and endured hardships until Captain Campbell, the owner of Cleburne Stock Farm in Spring Hill, Tennessee, learned of his plight and rescued him. He remained at Captain Campbell's farm until his death in 1899.
Little Brown Jug's illustrious racing career (1879-1882) occurred at a time when horses sometimes raced twice weekly and sometimes were required to go as many as four or even five heats in a day. Little Brown Jug traveled all over the United States from his home in Tennessee to Chicago, Rochester, Poughkeepsie, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio, meeting and defeating such champions of the day as Mattie Hunter and Sleepy Tom. Hitched to a high-wheeled sulky and driven by Immortal W. H. "Knapsack" McCarthy, he set a 3-heat world's record of 2:11 3/4, 2:11 3/4, and 2:12 1/2 on August 24, 1881 in Hartford, Connecticut. This record lasted for almost ten years. In addition to McCarthy, Little Brown Jug was also driven by H. Dawes, F. Van Ness and J. H. Haverly. During his career, the pacer won 17 races and lost seven.
Racing Immortal Pop Geers, who worked Little Brown Jug in 1879 but who never drove him in a race, paid tribute to him by saying, "I do not think I was ever behind a stronger, easier going horse. His conformation was the most remarkable of any horse ever seen upon the turf." He added, "... but the most remarkable thing about him was his abnormal muscular development. His forelegs were large, flat and well-tapered, and his hindquarters were so immense as to make him look like a deformity." He further stated, "What he was as a racehorse we know, but what he might have been had he received the care and attention in his early career bestowed upon promising race horses in modern times is a matter of conjecture ... Many people still believe him to have been possessed of as much natural speed as any horse that ever lived, and I am not prepared to say but what this belief is well founded."
Little Brown Jug was portrayed in several Currier & Ives lithographs and was important enough to be the subject of an oil painting by Scott Leighton, a well-known 19th century equine artist whose work was often used by the well-known lithographic firm.
In 1946, more than half a century after Little Brown Jug was foaled, a multiple-heat event that was to become the premier pacing race in the world was named in Little Brown Jug's honor. Held every September at the Delaware, Ohio county fairground, it will forever memorialize history's most renowned plow horse.