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The Best Story From The 2019 Jug

Published: September 23, 2019 12:31 pm ET

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In some instances, what happens at the Little Brown Jug stays at the Little Brown Jug. The one Jug story from last week that surely got out was that Southwind Ozzi won the 2019 edition of the pacing classic. Many aren’t aware of what might just be the best story of the 74th edition of the Jug… until now.

In writing a piece for The Columbus Dispatch, Michael Arace has explained how first-time Jug winning trainer Bill MacKenzie was thinking of someone else – a 12-year-old Canadian boy that he didn’t really know – moments after the biggest win of his racing career.

The significance of Southwind Ozzi’s Jug victory surely wasn’t lost on the people that read a preview story on the horse heading into the day of heat racing. The owning and racing of Standardbreds has been a family affair for MacKenzie and co-owner Vincent Ali Jr. Courtesy of the campaign that Southwind Ozzi has put together this season, 2019 has been particularly special for the connections – some could even go as far to describe it as a once in a lifetime run.

Given what Southwind Ozzi’s major triumphs have meant to MacKenzie and the ownership, one would fully understand if the resident of Cranbury, NJ wanted to hoard any physical artifacts from the big wins – be it a set of shoes, a program of the day’s races, winner’s circle photographs, whatever the memento may be, big or small.

As Arace’s piece explains, Nova Scotian Jason Turnbull and his 12-year-old son, Justin, had made the pilgrimage down from the Maritimes to spend the week at Ohio’s Delaware County Fair. The harness racing fans soaked in the fair experience and followed the Grand Circuit action as it played out over the world’s fastest half-mile Standardbred racecourse. The Columbus Dispatch article states that the trip was a Christmas present that Jason had given to his son, who surely stood out amongst the tens of thousands of fair revelers.

Justin and MacKenzie (light blue t-shirt) amongst the crowd in Southwind Ozzi’s Little Brown Jug winner’s circle.

Justin was rocking a set of custom racing colours while at the fair – his blue and white garb was representing his uncle’s Maritimes horse farm with pride. MacKenzie, who had met the Turnbulls at the Jug barn earlier in the week, invited Justin, broken arm and all, to the winner’s circle Thursday if Southwind Ozzi lived up to the hype.

What a whirlwind.

Jason surely didn’t know last December that a trip to the fair would result in his son being front and centre in the winner’s circle after the Little Brown Jug. Most horsepeople wait their entire professional careers for that opportunity. Just being in that winner’s circle at that moment was special for Justin, without a doubt. That wasn’t enough for MacKenzie.

Arace explained that after the cameras finished snapping and the winner’s circle began to dissipate, MacKenzie pulled Justin aside. It was then that MacKenzie gave Justin the specific Little Brown Jug trophy that is awarded to the victorious trainer. “Here, this is yours,” said MacKenzie, who then added, “you’ll never forget your first Jug.”

Justin and MacKenzie (light blue t-shirt) amongst the crowd in Southwind Ozzi’s Little Brown Jug winner’s circle.

"To see the look on his face...he looked at Bill and said '#MindBlown,'" Jason has told Trot Insider, adding, "the whole week was something he'll never forget.”

"He'd been there since Sunday,” MacKenzie has explained to Trot Insider. “He came in and he's looking at all the horses, in his colours. Most people doing this today, we were like that as kids. I know I was. His dad told me that he asked him for Christmas he could go to the Little Brown Jug or Disney World, and he picked the Little Brown Jug. [At that age] I would have picked the same thing. So, I said 'if my horse wins, you make sure you're in the winner's circle' and he was there. I'm happy I could do that for him.”

MacKenzie’s training operation has been grinding out wins and purses every year since 1999. This year, his barn is on pace to break the $1-million plateau for single-season purse earnings for the first time. The New Jersey horseman has been slugging away at the harness game. It’s in his blood. He loves it, and he wants other to, as well.

MacKenzie didn’t invite Justin to the winner’s circle for any type of personal accolade or to be showered with praise. He didn’t give the awestruck youngster the winning trainer’s Little Brown Jug for any type of PR reason. Truth be told, MacKenzie was surprised to hear the story had spread this far, as he didn't tell anyone of his gift. Well, the cat’s now officially out of the bag.

"I'm getting all these text messages about it!” MacKenzie explained to Trot Insider. “There's enough negative news – not just in our sport, but in general.… look at football. I got great phone calls, Mike Lachance called me personally.… Jimmy Takter called me, everybody's just been great. There are a lot of great people in this business and we don't all do it for the money."

MacKenzie has earned the right to bask in Southwind Ozzi’s Jug accomplishments, but the conditioner has said that he’s now been asked to win another. He’s now on the clock.

"My little girl says to me, 'Why did you give that trophy away, I wanted it!" MacKenzie chuckled. "I said, 'You know what, you're putting the pressure on. Now I have to try to win another one?!"

To read Trot Insider’s recap from 2019 Little Brown Jug Day, click here.

(With files from The Columbus Dispatch)

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