The Road to the Kentucky Derby Begins: Delta Jackpot Preview


Exaggerator won the Delta Jackpot in 2015, en route to placing in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Preakness.

The racing world will have its eyes on Vinton, Louisiana on Saturday as Delta Downs runs a special 11-race afternoon card with eight stakes races, offering $2.3 million in purse money.

The feature race of the day is the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot for two-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth. The Delta Jackpot will go off as the seventh race and the scheduled post time is 4:45 p.m. central time. The race will be broadcast on Sirius XM radio channel 93. The coverage will be co-hosted by Dave Johnson and Bill Finley. Dave Weaver from TVG will also be broadcasting live from Delta Downs.

This is the 14th running of the Delta Jackpot. The race became a Grade 3 in 2006. In the past, because of the million-dollar purse, the race was a great spot for trainers to run horses that may not have been good enough for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but still had aspirations to run in the Kentucky Derby. This year, the winner this year will receive ten Road to the Kentucky Derby points.

With eventual Preakness winner Exaggerator winning the Delta Jackpot last year and boasting future Grade 1 winners Goldencents and Big Drama as Jackpot champions in 2012 and 2008 respectively, there is a remote possibility the race could get bumped up to Grade 2 status for 2017.

Delta Downs is what is popularly known as a “bullring,” with the oval six furlongs in length from finish line to finish line. The Delta Jackpot will start from a chute at the top of the stretch so the runners will have a three-furlong run to the clubhouse turn. With the sharp bullring turns, saving ground will be a key. Usually a horse will need to be close to the early pace. But if horses go too fast early, the race can set up for a closer.

The composition of the dirt on the race track at Delta Downs has been compared to Calder/Gulfstream Park West.

Gunnevera is the morning line favorite in the Jackpot at 5-2. He is usually based at the training center next door to Calder/Gulfstream Park West and walks over to the track for his morning works. The only graded stakes winner in the race, the Antonio Sano trainee comes in with a pattern similar to Exaggerator last year. They both won the Saratoga Special and then competed in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Exaggerator ran second in that race; Gunnevera was fifth. The only difference was Exaggerator then ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, while Gunnevera hasn’t raced since the Futurity. Of the horses shipping into the race, Gunnevera has spent the most time at Delta Downs. Javier Castellano, who was aboard for the victory in the Saratoga Special, regains the mount.

Don Stevens is the voice of Delta Downs (photo via

Don Stevens is the voice of Delta Downs (photo via

The local favorite for the race is Line Judge. The Joe Sharp trainee drew off to win the Jean Lafitte Stakes, the prep for the Delta Jackpot. He drew a good post position, as he will be coming out of post two. He has good early speed and will be seeking his fourth consecutive victory. He will be ridden again by Louisiana native C.J. McMahon.

Bob Baffert has a horse to watch here in Hot Sean. The horse is making his stakes debut after winning his route and two-turn debut as the favorite at Santa Anita last out. He is being ridden again by Martin Pedroza, who is the all-time leading jockey at Fairplex, the bullring track that used to run in September in Southern California.

J Boys Echo is a Dale Romans trainee that would love to see a suicidal speed to develop so that he can take advantage of it. An impressive maiden winner at this distance at Keeneland in his route debut and second career start, he will be ridden for the first time by Louisiana native Kent Desormeaux, who is one of two jockeys to have won the Delta Jackpot twice

An intriguing longshot to look at is Pat On the Back. The Ken McPeek trainee has faced New York-breds his whole career and comes off a victory in the slop in the Sleepy Hollow Stakes at Belmont when making his route debut. He drew the rail here and this is his first start going two turns. Robby Albarado will be riding for the first time

Mark Casse will be sending out two runners in this race and they will be breaking next to each other from the gate. Thirstforlife will break from post three. He led every step of the way to win an allowance race at Keeneland at this distance last out. Our Stormin Norman makes his dirt route debut after breaking maiden last out. He does have experience going two turns on the turf.

Dangerfield is a Southern California shipper from the Doug O’Neill barn. He broke his maiden impressively in the Oak Tree Juvenile Stakes at the Oak Tree at Pleasanton meet while making his route and two-turn debut. Flavien Prat, one of the leading riders in Southern California, picks up the mount.

Balandeen ships in to make his two-turn debut for trainer Chris Hartman. He comes off a second-place finish in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs at a mile. He has good tactical speed and it would not be surprising if he set the pace versus these. Channing Hill retains the mount.

Breaking from post 10 will be Tip Tap Tapizar. The Steve Asmussen trainee comes off a second-place finish in the Jean Lafitte Stakes. Gerard Melancon, who is nicknamed “G-Money” and is the other jockey to have won the Delta Jackpot twice, has the mount.

This is a wide-open race and you will get value no matter who you like. Delta Jackpot is also the final leg of an all-stakes pick four.

The first leg of the pick four is in race four, the $250,000 Delta Mile Stakes for three-year-olds and upward. The race features morning line favorite Great Minds, owned by Houston Texans nose tackle Vince Wilfork and Rise Up, stakes record holder of the Delta Jackpot when he ran the mile and a sixteenth in 1:44.71 in 2013.

The second leg is the $75,000 Sams Town Stakes for three-year-olds and upward which have never won a sweepstake.  The race is a two-turn, seven-furlong event. The morning line favorite is the Ken McPeek-trained The Truth or Else, who has plenty of two-turn experience, but defeated optional claimers while going shorter last out at Keeneland.

The third leg is the Grade 3, $400,000, Delta Princess for two-year-old fillies at a mile. There is plenty of speed in the race. Morning line favorite is Golden Mischief, trained by Steve Asmussen. She won the My Trusty Cat Stakes over this course last out. Cajun Delta Dawn and Dude Fantasy are Florida shippers that look dangerous here. Bob Baffert also sends out recent maiden winner Jilly, owned by his wife. Jilly will be making her route and stakes debut.

John DaSilva
John was the longest-tenured active handicapper and writer in New York City while working with the New York Post, with 19 years of experience providing detailed daily analysis for major media outlets. He has a demonstrated history of successful selections with a career winning percentage of around 30 percent and is frequently requested to appear as an expert analyst on television, radio, and in print.
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