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Solid, Competitive Field Set for Delta Jackpot

By Casey Laughter


Exaggerator: 2015 Delta Jackpot winner.
Photo: Coglianese, NYRA

Since it’s inception in 2002, some talented juveniles have used the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (GII) at Delta Downs in Louisiana as a springboard to successful careers as older horses. The 1 1/16-mile race is a bit off the beaten path in terms of the traditional Kentucky Derby (GI) trail and beyond, but some really good horses have taken the overland route through Vinton en route to national prominence.

In 2012, WC Racing’s Goldencents won the Delta Downs Jackpot over such notable rivals as graded stakes winners Itsmyluckyday and Central Banker. Goldencents went on to win the Santa Anita Derby (GI) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (GI) the following year. In 2015, the Keith Desormeaux-trained Exaggerator won the Jackpot over Sunny Ridge before taking the Santa Anita Derby (GI), Preakness Stakes (GI) and Haskell Invitational Stakes (GI) in his sophomore season.

The 2016 running, set for this Saturday, features some promising 2-year-old colts who also hope to earn some cherished Kentucky Derby points. The top four finishers will earn 10-4-2-1 toward a potential start in next year’s Run for the Roses. Gunnevera is one of top two contenders and his connections are hoping he replicates his impressive maiden win, which came before he stumbled in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last out. The colt skipped the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) in favor of this race.

The field:

Pat On the Back (Congrats – Accomplished, by Awesome Again) This hardy New York-bred colt is a two-time stakes winner in his home state thus far in his career after breaking his maiden at second asking at Saratoga going seven furlongs. The breeding on the colt suggests the longer the race the better, but his two stakes wins have been around one turn, going six furlongs in the Aspirant Stakes and one mile in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes. His race in the Delta Downs Jackpot will be his first in open company and a true test of his talent. Will he handle the tight turns? Will he handle tougher competition? Will he handle the added distance? Additionally, this colt is the only one in the field who will not receive Lasix.

Line Judge (Spring at Last – Reigning Dynasty, by Thunder Gulch) Line Judge has raced only at Canterbury Park. The colt won at second asking going 5 1/2 furlongs and has since been adding distance. He is on a three-race win streak, with his latest win coming in the one-mile Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. Line Judge has a pedigree that could go either way on the track. His sire was a world-class miler while his damsire won the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes (GI). Line Judge has a raced over the track, which will help him be competitive in this group.

Thirstforlife (Stay Thirsty – Promenade Girl, by Carson City) Thirstforlife is a three-quarter brother to top distaffer Cavorting (Bernardini) and is trained by top conditioner Mark Casse. Recently, Thirstforlife was seen finishing first in a 8.5 furlong allowance at Keeneland. He seemed to need the confidence boost following two tough stakes tries, one being in the mud in the Iroquois Stakes (GIII), a race won by Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Not This Time. Thirstforlife likes to run on the lead and will need a clean trip to get what he needs. He has the pedigree, now he needs to show he can be competitive.

Our Stormin Norman (Blame – Stroll By, by Stroll) Mark Casse conditions this colt as well. The colt finally got his maiden-breaking win in his fifth start at Keeneland, going seven furlongs while leading at every call. He seems to have a pedigree that would favor turf, as Blame is by Arch and his dam is by Stroll, also a talented turf runner. This colt will need to step up his game here, especially on dirt. Casse is usually very good at figuring out what his horses want, so we will see how this colt does with the dirt here and the tight turns.

Dangerfield (Into Mischief – Amusingly, by Distorted Humor) This colt, trained by Doug O’Neill for the Zayat family, is bred on the same successful cross that produced Practical Joke, a dual grade 1 winner. Dangerfield recently won the listed Oak Tree Juvenile Stakes to break his maiden, going a mile and 70 yards. The Zayat family purchased the colt as a yearling at Keeneland last year for $450,000 and in his maiden0breaking win, sat right off the pacesetter. If Dangerfield can relax just a bit off the leaders, he could have a huge chance to win here to get a graded stake win and some Kentucky Derby points.

Gunnevara at Keeneland, 2016. Photo: Casey Laughter

Gunnevara at Keeneland, 2016. Photo: Casey Laughter

Gunnevera (Dialed In – Unbridled Rage, by Unbridled) Gunnevera won the Saratoga Special (GII), which was the race that Preakness winner Exaggerator also won last year. Gunnevera has a wicked late run, but last out in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, he flattened out in the stretch to finish fifth. The colt is from the first crop of Florida Derby (GI) winner Dialed In, who was a decent runner, and Gunnevera has been targeting this race especially, putting in four recorded works since his Breeders’ Futurity run. His last two works were five furlongs in :59 3/5 and 1:00, which were both bullet works.

Balandeen (Bernardini – Mamma Kimbo, by Discreet Cat) Following two straight wins, the colt finished second behind McCraken in the listed Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs. While the colt did not win, he was the “best of the rest” after sitting off the leaders and moving up to finishing strongly, looking like a promising horse moving forward. All jockey Channing Hill may need to do is get Balandeen to sit off the leaders and put himself in a very tactical stalking position again. He has been training at Churchill and has put in one one recorded work since his last start.

Hot Sean (Flatter – Stormy B, by Cherokee Run) Hot Sean is coming into the Delta Downs Jackpot off two straight wins at Santa Anita, with his most recent being at one mile over Secret House. When Bob Baffert sends colts to tracks outside California, bettors pay attention. Hot Sean is a half-brother to good runners Itsaknockout (Lemon Drop Kid) and Storm Power (Tiz Wonderful). Hot Sean is another who likes to sit right off the pacesetters, so there may be some competition to get that ideal spot, as he is toward the outside and the tight turns of Delta Downs will do him no favors if he gets swung out wide.

J Boys Echo (Mineshaft – Letgomyecho, by Menifee) This half-brother to Unbridled Outlaw (Unbridled’s Song) won last time out at Keeneland going today’s distance of 1 1/16 miles. The colt is trained by Dale Romans, who has trained many top runners, including Shackleford, First Dude and Keen Ice when he captured the 2015 Travers Stakes (GI) over American Pharoah. The colt put in a maintenance work at Churchill on November 12, posting five furlongs in 1:01 2/5. J Boys Echo looks like a promising young horse and even a loss here could still show some talent that could get him to more prominent Kentucky Derby preps later on.

Tip Tap Tapizar (Tapizar – Counterpoise, by Storm Cat) The colt won at first asking at Churchill Downs in June, and followed up with solid third-place performances in the Bashford Manor and then a second in the Saratoga Special. He then shipped to Monmouth Park to win the listed Sapling Stakes. He then finished second to Line Judge in in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta, giving him a race over the track, which could pose as a positive as the Delta Downs track has tight turns that some horses struggle to adapt to. Tip Tap Tapizar sold for $175,000 as a yearling and so far, is his sire’s top earner. However, Tapizar as of now, is producing offspring with an average win distance of six furlongs from his first crop.

 The Delta Downs Jackpot looks like a wide-open race with no standout winner. Gunnevera has been targeting this race andskipped the lucrative Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The rich event features some impressive maidens and stakes-placed runners and appears as if no no colt is going to get all of the attention.

 The Delta Downs Jackpot is scheduled as the seventh race on November 19 with a post time of 4:45 CT.