Betting Line and driver David Miller won the 71st edition of the Little Brown Jug on Thursday afternoon, rolling to a commanding 1:49 victory in the second heat on a hot and sunny afternoon. Although there wasn't a cloud in the sky, the atmosphere for the Jug was not exactly picture-perfect as text messages allegedly sent by the winning trainer, Casie Coleman, prompted concerns that her horse could have been treated, in violation of the rules, the morning of the Jug.
Trainers Tony Alagna, Ron Burke and Jimmy Takter said they were filing a formal protest with the Ohio State Racing Commission and made it clear they were racing their horses under protest.
One of Coleman’s assistant trainers lost their phone sometime Wednesday night at the fairgrounds and when the person who found the phone tried to figure out who it belonged to, they found text messages. The content of the text messages compelled the person to contact the judges.
Presiding judge John Yinger, who is employed by the Ohio State Racing Commission, decided the text messages did not contain evidence that Betting Line should be scratched from the Jug, but Takter, Alagna and Burke were so upset by what the texts said—and to them, implied--that they conferred with Yinger and the owners of their horses over the course of hours.
Takter discussed the situation with Jeff Snyder, co-owner of Lyons Snyder, on the backstretch. At one point they agreed to scratch the horse.
One of the text messages read, "anytime between 8:30-10:30 range when its clear saftly (sic) get his treatment into him." A second text said something about a laser. There was also a third text.
At one point during the trainers’ communication with Yinger, they said they were definitely not taking their horses out on the track until they got an explanation. Eventually they decided to boycott the post parade and file a formal protest.
Alagna, Burke and Takter, representing nine of the 11 Jug entries, discussed scratching their horses, but eventually they decided their horses in the first elimination heat, that included Betting Line, would boycott post parading with Betting Line. Betting Line was on the track for a full five minutes by himself before the others joined him on the track.
After winning the first heat of the Jug, Coleman called the texts--which she confirmed were sent--and resulting drama "bullshit."
Coleman, who is a member of the Little Brown Jug Society, claimed the "treatment" was simply yogurt.
"It’s bullshit from all those other guys. Absolute bullshit," said Coleman.
Coleman said her tack trunks, horse trailer and car were searched by racing officials.
Coleman also commented on the boycott of the post parade. "I said, ‘you know what, if this is going to keep them all happy, and go out there and roast for five minutes…we’ll do whatever we need to do to cooperate."
Alagna’s distress about the day worsened when his top colt Racing Hill was parked out first-over in brutal fractions that included a :27 second quarter. Although Racing Hill held for third, Alagna scratched him from the final heat.
"It’s just not right," Alagna said about having to race with suspicion about the integrity of the race. "I think she should resign from the Little Brown Jug Society.
"We saw intent to do something based on texts," continued Alagna. "There was intent to do something. We're supposed to be in detention. Everyone is in this secured barn."
In the hour or so before the first elimination heat, Burke said he did not want to race but had to consider his partners in the horses they entered. Wingfield Brothers of Ohio, who share ownership of Manhattan Beach, had a group of family and friends numbering around 80 with them at the Jug.Coleman said she asked the judges to return the cell phone but the judges never received the phone, only screenshots of the texts.
The Delaware County Fair issued a statement regarding the trainers' protest: "The horsemen expressed their concerns to the Ohio State Racing Commission (OSRC). Little Brown Jug officials worked with the OSRC and the horsemen and we are pleased that the horsemen participated in our event. At this point it is an OSRC decision."—By Kathy Parker & Gordon Waterstone/harnessracing.com