Delaware County Fair’s track influenced Australian harness racing


The Little Brown Jug is an iconic race in Australia, but more iconic is that Delaware’s harness racing track has influenced track improvements in Australia and New Zealand.

“It’s the pinnacle,” said Wendy Maher from Australia. “If you can get to the Little Brown Jug, you’ve made it. You’ve done something humongous.”

Wendy said her husband was heavily involved in Australian harness racing and instrumental in changing the tracks for the better there. Graeme Maher passed away from pancreatic cancer earlier this year.

“Graeme was very involved in track maintenance over in Australia on our race tracks,” Wendy said. She said that her husband and his father started making trips to the United States in the mid 1990s to look at harness racing tracks.

“We started coming back every two to three years,” Wendy said. “We just naturally, over the years, started meeting lots of locals and the friendship grew.”

Graeme Maher was well known among harness racing enthusiasts in Delaware. In his memory, a Jug race was sponsored by his Delaware friends.

Lisa Hilson, Wendy and Graeme’s daughter, said this was the first time she had attended the Jug.

“When living at home with mom and dad it was a regular thing,” she said. “Always be listening to the Jug and talking about the Jug and memorabilia around the land room from the Jug. Our house is like Delaware.”

Wendy said her family has had friends from Delaware come to Australia to visit them. She said they have even brought other people from Australia to the Jug with them.

Wendy said her husband wanted to learn how the tracks were maintained in America so he could work on improving Australian tracks.

“Our tracks in Australia didn’t even have any camber (convex or arch shape) on them at all,” she said. “It was so hard that horses were breaking down. Graeme said, ‘that’s it, I’m going to America to see what they do over there.’”

After learning from the American tracks, Graeme went home to “fight for track improvements in Australia,” Wendy said. “In the last 20 to 30 years, he totally changed the tracks’ surfacing and rebuilt most tracks, the important tracks.”

Tom Byrne worked with Graeme.

“He has changed the way horses raced in the fact that he put cambers and new surfaces on tracks,” Byrne said. “He’s incredible in what he has done in the past 20 years. Especially in the last 10 years because of the mighty job he has done in Victoria, the rest of Australia has drawn him everywhere.”

John Denton from New Zealand got to know Graeme through their common interest in harness racing and track maintenance. He said the friendship just grew and grew.

“It was through Graeme, initially, which I had my trip to the Little Brown Jug in 2012,” Denton said. “What’s developed out of the friendship, of course, is Graeme’s influence, because of his track design, you know, and the way the track should be prepared. I’ve implemented that right out through all of New Zealand.

“I oversee like some 32 tracks in New Zealand,” he added. “Pretty much every track in New Zealand has a surface on it that is superior to what it used to be.”

Though the Delaware track had a large influence on Graeme Maher in redesigning Australian tracks, he himself influenced many people of Delaware.

“My husband loved nothing better than to go sit down on a quiet park bench on Sandusky Street there,” Wendy Maher said. “Watch the passing by traffic and then fall asleep on the park bench.”

In his memory, a brick was laid in front of the park bench on the southwest corner of North Sandusky Street and West Winter Street.

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Graeme Maher of Australia was a regular at The Little Brown Jug, visiting about every two to three years. Maher lost his battle against pancreatic cancer earlier this year. His friends from Delaware held a balloon release to honor his memory Thursday before the beginning of the Jug.
https://www.delgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/40/2017/09/web1_DSC_7226.jpgGraeme Maher of Australia was a regular at The Little Brown Jug, visiting about every two to three years. Maher lost his battle against pancreatic cancer earlier this year. His friends from Delaware held a balloon release to honor his memory Thursday before the beginning of the Jug. D. Anthony Botkin | The Gazette

By D. Anthony Botkin

abotkin@delgazette.com

D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.

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