Western Dreamer favored in balanced Jug field
DELAWARE, Ohio (AP) _ Twenty-seven horses will start and it’s almost as if that many have at least a shot at winning the 52nd Little Brown Jug Thursday at Delaware County Fairgrounds.
The oddsmakers have installed Western Dreamer, Village Jasper and Arturo as the favorites in the three eliminations of the middle of the Triple Crown races for 3-year-old pacing colts.
Western Dreamer, winner of the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Cane Pace, is the clear choice at even money in the $605,210 Jug.
But to John Campbell, who has driven three Jug winners, it is rare when there is a clear-cut favorite in even the premier stakes races anymore.
``It’s really hard to see a dominant horse anymore because of the pressure they race under when they’re 2-year-olds,″ Campbell said. ``So many of them come to their speed at 2, they go as fast at 2 as they ever can in their lives. And the style of racing and the schedule, it makes it a lot tougher to dominate than it used to.″
Campbell, who won behind Merger (1982), Life Sign (1993) and Nick’s Fantasy (in a Jug record 1:51 2-5 in 1995), knows what a difference a top horse can make.
``When you do come up with that super horse, it’s certainly nice,″ he said. ``You appreciate them when they come along because you know how hard it is to get one.″
Western Dreamer is the closest to a super horse this year. Trained by Bill Robinson and driven by Michel LaChance, the Canadian-owned horse has won nine of his 21 starts this season, to go with seven seconds and two thirds. The even-money favorite has earned $820,390 for brothers Daniel, Patrick and Matthew Daly of Hamilton, Ont.
But making Western Dreamer the favorite is almost like putting a bull’s eye on him. Robinson trained two previous heavy favorites that came up short _ Cam’s Card Shark, scratched lame at the gate in the first heat in 1994, and Riyadh, which failed in a bid for the Triple Crown when he finished second to Campbell and Life Sign in 1993.
Western Dreamer has lost his last two starts after a six-race winning streak.
``I just think it’s awful hard when you’re made the favorite and everybody’s looking for ways to gun you down,″ Daniel Daly said. ``He’s been racing awful tough. It’s just the last few steps, he’s gotten beat.″
A Jug victory would give Western Dreamer a shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Ralph Hanover in 1983. The third leg is the Messenger Stakes at The Meadows Oct. 10.
The second choice in the second elimination is The Wiz, owned by Peter Pan Stables of Pepper Pike. The Wiz could become the first Ohio-owned horse to win the Jug since Melvin’s Woe in 1973.
Village Jasper, the 3-2 choice in the third elimination, has collected $742,283 while winning 13 of 24 starts. With Bill Wellwood training and Paul MacDonell in the sulky, Village Jasper has won his last five races.
Other horses to watch in the third elimination are His Mattjesty, which has come on strong in the last few weeks, and The Big Dog, last year’s 2-year-old colt champion.
``It’s wide open,″ Wellwood said. ``Nobody’s going to run off, I’ll tell you that.″
In the first elimination, Arturo is a 2-1 choice, followed by Dream Away with Campbell driving at 5-2 and Manificent at 7-2.
The first three finishers in each elimination return for the final. If a non-winner is first in the final, the four winners come back in a race-off.
Light rains and heavy fog slowed the track Wednesday, but sunshine and temperatures in the 70s were forecast for Thursday.