Tom Archdeacon: No debating this horse’s star power

Although Wright State backed out as the host and Hofstra University had to step in last Monday night, it turns out we’ll still have a national debate here — one where no one holds back.

It’s Friday night and while the candidates might not have the household familiarity of a Clinton and a Trump, you’ve got to agree their names are a lot catchier:

Wiggle It Jiggleit.

Always B Miki.

And both of them are YUUUUGE right now in the polls.

Wiggle It Jiggleit, a 4-year-old bay, gelding pacer, is No. 1 in the latest Hambletonian Society/Breeders Crown Standardbred Poll for all pacers and trotters. Always B Miki, a 5-year-old pacer, is No. 5.

The pair are the two most dominant active pacers in the world. Wiggle It Jiggleit has over $3.61 million in career earnings — and by year’s end may wind up in racing’s top five money winners of all time — while Always B Miki has made almost $2.19 million.

Friday night they meet at Dayton Raceway in the $150,000 Dayton Pacing Derby, which will be preceded by the $150,000 Dayton Trotting Derby.

Wiggle It and Miki will be joined by three other millionaires in their race — All Bets Off, Freaky Feet Pete and Luck Be Withyou — as well as Always At My Place and Shamballa, who upset both headliners in the U.S. Pacing Championship at the Meadowlands in August.

The best-known horse in the race, though, is Wiggle It Jiggleit.

“For our industry, he’s definitely one of the most interesting horses that has come down the line in the last 10 years,” said George Teague Jr., who owns the champion pacer with Teague Racing Partners. “He’s like a rock star when you go places with him. People just want to see him.”

With $2.18 million in earnings last year, he was No. 1 in North America. Among his big wins was his memorable, come-from-behind stretch finish to take the Little Brown Jug by a nose in what is considered the most memorable finish in the 70-year history of the fabled race.

In December he won the Dan Patch Horse of the Year award given by the U.S. Harness Writers Association.

This year Wiggle It Jiggleit — who is trained by Clyde Francis — has already logged over 15,000 miles and competed in six states and two Canadian provinces. Racing 21 times, he’s won 13, including the Canadian Pacing Derby earlier this month.

Always B Miki has won eight of his 13 races this year, including the Jim Ewart Memorial at Scioto Downs — where he set an all-time track record — a week after Wiggle It beat him in Canada.

That Scioto Downs performance, and because he’ll come out of the advantageous two hole Friday night (post time 9:56 p.m.), has made Always B Miki a 6-5 morning line favorite. Wiggle It Jiggleit, starting from the five post, opens at 8-5.

The two have met six times this year. Always B Miki won three and Wiggle It Jiggleit beat him three times, although one of those races saw both horses upset by Shamballa.

“We definitely provide a source of entertainment that the sport needs,” Teague said a couple of days ago by phone just before post time at Harrington Raceway in Delaware, his home track.

“This rivalry is great for the game, but it ain’t that great for me,” he said with a laugh, “I’d be just as happy if he wasn’t around in Dayton. He’s a great horse — big and strong. Just a bearcat of a horse. He’s a real brute.”

A different breed

Just as his horse has special standing, so too does Teague Jr.

There aren’t that many premier African-American trainers and owners in a sport that is predominantly white.

The 53-year-old Teague — like his sister Brenda, who has her own stable — followed his late father, George Sr., into the sport.

“Back in the ’70s and ’80s, my dad had it a lot different than me,” Teague said. “He passed on to me the idea of working hard and to never take anything for granted.”

In turn, he has tried to pass those lessons on to his own son, Montrell, the 25-year-old driver of Wiggle It Jiggleit.

“He never went to day care a day in his life, his day care was the barn,“ Teague Jr. laughed. “He grew up in the barn, same as me.”

Tuesday at Harrington, Montrell won his 1,000th race as a driver.

In his heyday, Teague Jr., a noted trainer himself, had over 120 horses in his stable, several of which gained national recognition. In 2004 he had his first Horse of the Year in Rainbow Blue. Two years later he had the Pacer of the Year — Total Truth.

But Wiggle It Jiggleit, the son of Mr. Wiggles, out of the mare Mozzi Hanover, is in a class all his own, he said:

“He’s a different breed from the other ones I’ve had and the ones I’ve seen. He’s just an iron-clad, tough horse who goes to the post every week and gives you 100 percent. He’s got three special components — speed, a great set of lungs and. more than anything, he’s smart.

“Put all that together and you’ve got a horse that stands out from everybody else.”

Rock star status

Wiggle It Jiggleit has his own Twitter account where he’s described as “taking over the world one race at a time.”

He made his biggest splash at last year’s Jug in front of a crowd of 46,721 crammed around the track at the Delaware County Fairgrounds and also a national simulcast audience.

After a slow break from the gate, he was parked on the outside for well over a half mile and came off the final turn trailing Lost For Words by more than a length.

To many, the race appeared to be over, but Wiggle It Jiggleit — in a career-defining effort — dug deep and edged Lost For Words at the wire.

In the winner’s circle, Wiggle It Jiggleit often will put on a show, as well.

Lacking “patience,” as Teague put it, the precocious pacer will — to the delight of the crowd — often rear up on his hind legs rather than stand there stoically waiting for the group photo.

According to Ken Weingartner of Harness Racing Communications: “Social media posts regarding Wiggle It Jiggleit routinely generate two to three times more interaction than any other topics in harness racing.”

That rock star status Teague referred to was on full display at this year’s Jug, where Wiggle It Jiggleit was a celebrity guest.

He posed for photos with fans who lined up at his barn and then raised money with a charity auction, the winner getting to ride behind him in a two-seat sulky to lead the post parade for the first Jug elimination race.

“You always dream of a horse making his own legend and for once it’s really happening,” Teague Jr. said. “He keeps writing his story — on and off the track — in his own way and everyone seems to love it.”

And going into Friday night’s equine debate, that too makes him a candidate unlike some others we know.