Day At The Track

35 years since Waples won with Ralph Hanover

01:04 AM 19 Sep 2018 NZST
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Ralph Hanover, harness racing
Ralph Hanover with Ron Waples in the sulky at the Little Brown Jug
Ed Keys photo

It's been 35 years since fans at the Delaware County Fair have seen a horse capture the Pacing Triple Crown with a win in the Little Brown Jug. True, three horses have won the Pacing Triple Crown since Ralph Hanover in 1983, but because the sequence of Crown races often change, none of those horses completed their quests in Delaware, Ohio.

In fact, of the 10 Pacing Triple Crown winners to date, only Ralph Hanover and Adios Butler in 1959 finished their feats in the Little Brown Jug. Stay Hungry will try to join them on Thursday. He will become the sixth horse to compete in the Jug with the chance to win the Pacing Triple Crown and first since 1993 when Riyadh finished second. Western Hanover in 1992 and Albatross in 1971 also finished second in their bids.

The most recent Pacing Triple Crown winner was No Pan Intended, who in 2003 won the Cane Pace first followed by the Little Brown Jug and the Messenger Stakes.

To commemorate the 35th anniversary of the last Pacing Triple Crown coronation at the Little Brown Jug, Ralph Hanover's driver and co-owner Ron Waples recounted his memories of the experience and the horse.

"I'd have said it then and I'd say the same thing now, it's probably one of the biggest thrills of my life," Waples said about winning the Pacing Triple Crown. "Going into the Jug, the horse was very sharp and very good. He'd taken on all comers. I think back on it now, and I think I would have been more disappointed if he'd gotten beat than anything. I was just so hyped up about it, so confident that he was going to do well."

Ralph Hanover, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1986 and died in 2008, was a son of Meadow Skipper out of Ravina Hanover. He was purchased for $58,000 by trainer Stew Firlotte and Waples, who had decided to partner on the yearling rather than bid against each other.

The colt proved to be lazy throughout his career, but knew when it was show time.

"He was hard to get to go at all until we got him in with horses," Waples said. "Once he got behind the gate and started to race he woke right up. Even at his best, he was always very, very lazy."

Ralph Hanover won seven of 15 races at age 2 before etching his name in history at age 3.

In 1983, Ralph Hanover won 20 of 25 races and earned a then-record $1.71 million in purses. He won the Messenger Stakes in June, the Meadowlands Pace and Queen City Pace (later replaced by the North America Cup) in July and three double-heat races -- the Adios, Cane Pace and Prix d'Ete -- in August. He also competed in the double-heat Oliver Wendell Holmes in August, finishing second by a nose.

After some time off to freshen up, Ralph Hanover won the Simcoe Stakes before claiming the Little Brown Jug in straight heats on a chilly 50-degree day in Ohio.

"He was a lazy colt, but I think that's why he lasted so long," Waples said. "You could leave out of the gate and have him on high gear and two steps later he would be going at a slow walk if you let him. Or you could come first up and he would just relax out there. It made no difference to him.

"His manners and his gait were his two large pluses. I was just a minor part."

Prior to the Little Brown Jug, Waples called Firlotte to find out how preparations for the race were going.

"I watched three other ones train here and they all trained somewhere between 2:05 and two minutes," Firlotte told him.

"And how was Ralph?" Waples asked.

"I think he trained pretty good," Firlotte responded. "He went a mile in 2:35."

"It was funny," Waples said. "That just shows how lazy he was. But once you got him behind the gate and asked him to go, he responded very well."

Ralph Hanover won the Little Brown Jug and Pacing Triple Crown in front of a crowd of 46,087.

"The Jug is a pretty cool place no matter what you're going to do," said the 74-year-old Waples, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1986 and U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1994. "It's just unbelievable. It's quite a thrill.

"Time goes by really fast. It doesn't seem that long ago. But it is."

The Pacing Triple Crown began in 1956. Following is a list of the 10 horses to win the three races in the series: The Cane Pace, Messenger Stakes, and Little Brown Jug.

Year-Horse-Driver-Trainer
1959-Adios Butler-Clint Hodgins-Paige West
1965-Bret Hanover-Frank Ervin-Frank Ervin
1966-Romeo Hanover-William Myer, George Sholty-Jerry Silverman
1968-Rum Customer-Billy Haughton-Billy Haughton
1970-Most Happy Fella-Stanley Dancer-Stanley Dancer
1980-Niatross-Clint Galbraith-Clint Galbraith
1983-Ralph Hanover-Ron Waples-Stew Firlotte
1997-Western Dreamer-Mike Lachance-Bill Robinson
1999-Blissfull Hall-Ron Pierce-Ben Wallace
2003-No Pan Intended-David Miller-Ivan Sugg

Here is the video when Ralph Hanover won the Triple Crown at the Little Brown Jug https://youtu.be/Qf1rgX3UTRo

by Ken Weingartner, for the USTA Media 

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