For many racing fans, the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot signals it’s time to turn the page from Breeders’ Cup to Triple Crown.
It’s OK to sleepwalk through a handful of graded stakes in a post-Breeders’ Cup daze, but the Jackpot sports a huge purse and typically draws an intriguing cast of 2-year-old talent targeting the next year’s Kentucky Derby. Last year’s edition was won by Exaggerator, who went on to become one of this year’s best 3-year-olds with wins in the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Haskell Invitational.
The 1 1/16-mile race drew a field of 10 in 2016, including seven entrants who prefer to be near the lead or in front. My hunch is the tempo will be fairly brisk early with multiple stakes winners Pat On the Back (#1) and Line Judge (#2), recent Keeneland winner Our Stormin Norman (#4) and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s two-time winner Hot Sean (#8) in the mix to set the pace.
Hot Sean, a half-brother to 2015 Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Itsaknockout, was impressive in winning a one-mile race at Santa Anita on Oct. 27, and from an Equibase Speed Figure perspective, the 97 earned in his last start is tied for the best in the Jackpot field.
Our Stormin Norman debuted on the main track at Churchill Downs in June and finished second for trainer Mark Casse. Casse then tried the Blame colt on grass for three straight races, with the best result a well-beaten third-place finish.
Casse shifted Our Stormin Norman back to the main track for a seven-eighths of a mile race at Keeneland on Oct. 23 and he set a lightning pace through an opening half-mile in :45.69 before powering to a dominant win. He wore blinkers for the first time and earned a career-best 92 Equibase Speed Figure for that race.
A $250,000 purchase as a 2-year-old in training, Our Stormin Norman is from the family of top sires Pulpit and Tale of the Cat. This is a big step up in class, but I think he’s got a chance to be something special.
Thirstforlife (#3), Our Stormin Norman’s stablemate from the Casse barn, finished third in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes behind highly regarded Klimt in August. He also enters the Delta Downs Jackpot off a win at Keeneland.
The Stay Thirsty colt has faced quality competition, as he was beaten by Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Not This Time when fifth in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes. Thirstforlife could be dangerous after a nice confidence booster in his last start, and he has a terrific pedigree as a half-brother to the recently retired multiple Grade 1 winner Cavorting out of Grade 2 winner Promenade Girl.
Gunnevera (#6) won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special Stakes and finished fifth in the Grade 1 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity on Oct. 8 at Keeneland, both times rallying from well off the pace. The 97 Equibase Speed Figure he earned for winning the Saratoga Special is tied with Hot Sean for the best among the Jackpot entrants and there should be plenty of speed to set up his closing kick.
Of the closers, however, I prefer lightly raced J Boys Echo (#9) from the barn of Dale Romans. He got of to a poor start in his career debut but still finished eagerly for second, beaten by a length and a half in a sprint at Churchill Downs in October. He came back later that month at Keeneland and rallied for a 5 ½-length runaway win despite being steadied and bounced off the rail near the top of the stretch.
A $485,000 purchase at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale, J Boys Echo is out of 2005 Forward Gal Stakes winner Letgomyecho and looks like he could just be scratching the surface with two starts to his credit.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention that Dangerfield (#5), an Into Mischief colt trained by Doug O’Neill, improved significantly when stretching out from three-quarters of a mile to 1 1/16 miles for the Oak Tree Juvenile Stakes. He pulled away to win by 4 ¼ lengths after pressing the early pace and posted a 93 Equibase Speed Figure, a 10-point jump from his previous best. He could also be dangerous in what feels like a very nice field for the 2016 Delta Downs Jackpot.
1. J Boys Echo (#9)
2. Our Stormin Norman (#4)
3. Dangerfield (#5)
Betting Strategies on a $25 budget
$10 win, $15 place on #9 J Boys Echo ($25)
$4 exacta 4,9 with 4,5,8,9 ($24)