For a horse that was reluctant to go forward, Hugadragon has shown signs of advancing for trainer Ron Burke.
Hugadragon was one of 12 three-year-old male pacers entered in Thursday’s $526,800 Little Brown Jug at the Delaware Ohio County Fair. A rare homebred for the Burke Stable, Hugadragon has won two of 12 races this year and earned $219,260. He is winless since June, but is coming off a second-place finish to Big Bad John in the $200,000 Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship at Chester Racetrack.
Hugadragon also finished third from Post 7 at Chester Racetrack in the $200,000 consolation for the Battle of the Brandywine; second to Shadyshark Hanover in a $102,750 division of the Oliver Wendell Holmes in August at the Meadowlands, and fourth from Post 8 at the Meadows in the $500,000 Adios.
“Every time we race him he gets stronger and better,” said Burke, who is trying to win the Little Brown Jug for the first time. “The last couple races he’s actually been really good.”
The Little Brown Jug is the second jewel in the Pacing Triple Crown. The first jewel, the Cane Pace, was won by Jug hopeful Betterthancheddar. The Jug field was divided into two six-horse, first-heat divisions, from which the top four finishers will advance to the second heat.
If one of the first-heat winners also wins the second heat, he is declared the Jug winner. Otherwise, the three heat-winners will all return for a third-heat race-off. The last time a race-off was necessary was in 2000, when Astreos won over Gallo Blue Chip, George Scooter and Profita.
Hugadragon is a son of Dragon Again out of the Burke’s mare Hip Huggers. He is a half-brother to Relaxed Fit, who was a stakes winner, and his mother made $221,417 mainly in the open ranks.
“We decided if there was one mare we were going to keep, we would keep her,” Burke said. “We knew what kind of mare she was, but nobody else would have cared. She was a tough mare.”
Hugadragon was a tough horse, particularly when it came to getting hitched and willing to go.
“He’s the only yearling we couldn’t break ourselves; we had to send him to the Amish,” Burke said. “He just wouldn’t move. He didn’t care. The minute you put the lines through the harness and they touched him, it was on. He wasn’t going, no matter what.
“They ended up hooking him between plow horses. Within a month or so, they said they thought he was good enough. Now, he’s more annoying. He’s not perfect, but he’s not bad. He just does annoying things.”
As a two-year-old, Hugadragon won divisions of the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes and Keystone Classic. He was second in his elimination for the Breeders Crown, finishing between winner Shadyshark Hanover and third-place Big Jim, before suffering from breathing trouble in the final and finishing eighth. He had throat surgery and did not race the remainder of the year.
“At the end of his two-year-old year he was really good,” Burke said. “He improved every day.”
In the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes championship on September 5 at Chester, Hugadragon and driver Yannick Gingras went to the front with an opening quarter-mile of :25.3. It was the first time this year the gelding led a race at that point. He held the lead until the stretch, when he yielded to Big Bad John.
“I think people saw the other day a little of what he can do if we leave with him,” Burke said. “Our whole thought has been if we drew inside in the Jug we’re going to cut him loose and see what happens.”
Burke said Hugadragon reminds him of Foiled Again, the seven-year-old that Monday night became the oldest pacer to ever have a million-dollar season, which he accomplished by winning the Bobby Quillen Memorial for the second consecutive year.
“He’s got the same gait and the same tenaciousness,” Burke said.
In addition to sending Hugadragon into the Little Brown Jug, Burke has three fillies – Myluvmylife, Rocklamation and Rockratese – in Wednesday’s Jugette. With wins in each event, he would join Brett Pelling and Billy Haughton as the only trainers with victories in both races in the same year.
“I’m excited,” Burke said. “I think we have a good chance.”
This story courtesy of Harness Racing Communications, a division of the U.S. Trotting Association. For more information, visit www.ustrotting.com.