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Delta Downs’ racing office saw a flurry of activity on Friday morning as final entries and post positions were drawn for next Saturday’s $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot (Gr. III). The 5-2 morning line favorite for the 14th running of the track’s signature event is Gunnevera, winner of the Saratoga Special (Gr. II) in August. Gunnevera hails from the barn of Antonio Sano. A total of 10 talented 2-year-olds were entered for the 1-1/16 mile race.
The 7-2 second choice in the morning line is Bob Baffert’s trainee Hot Sean. Baffert is a Hall of Fame conditioner who is best known for his work with 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Hot Sean will be making his stakes debut in the Jackpot after winning consecutive races at Santa Anita in October. Baffert’s best finish in the Jackpot came in 2006 with Pirates Deputy.
Doug O’Neill, who won this year’s Kentucky Derby with Nyquist and the 2013 ‘Run for the Roses’ with I’ll Have Another, will saddle Dangerfield next Saturday. Dangerfield will try to give O’Neil his second win in the Jackpot after Goldencents took the race in 2012.
The $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot is the centerpiece of an 11-race program that will feature eight stakes races, two graded stakes, and over $2.3 million in total purse money.
#8 Hot Sean – There is no way I can pick against a Baffert shipper…especially one that has won two in a row at Santa Anita fairly easily. His maiden win going six and a half furlongs was really solid, and he backed it up again in an allowance race last time out to win by over a length. His early speed is going to be a great advantage at a track like Delta Downs, and I also like the fact that he’s drawn outside here so the jockey can decide if he wants to go to the lead or rate outside the other main speed that will most likely by Line Judge. That tactical advantage, plus of course the Baffert factor, pushed him to my top pick over Our Stormin Norman
#4 Our Stormin Norman – After three unsuccessful efforts on the turf, Our Stormin Norman tried the dirt again in his last start and ran a monster race scoring in a maiden special weight at Keeneland by almost three lengths. Obviously the dirt looks to be his best surface, and that win earned the highest speed figure of anyone in the group. Now the question will be whether he can step up in class and do it again. It’s hard not to have confidence in his trainer Mark Casse right now, and I like that Julien is coming in to ride the horse. Lots of positive signs, and the price will be square.
#2 Line Judge – Won the Jean Lafitte Stakes last time out over heavily favored Tip Tap Tapizar. It’s always a positive to get a win over the Delta Downs track as it is definitely a different surface and configuration compared to other places. Before coming to Delta Downs he had also won a stakes at Canterbury in blow out fashion by over six lengths. He’s the hot horse right now, and his speed figures suggest he’s ready for this new challenge. Most likely will be on the lead with this inside draw.
#6 Gunnevera – There is no doubt this horse is the class of the field as he is the only graded stakes winner in the group. That win was of course at Saratoga this summer in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special as he ran down Recruiting Ready in the stretch. They gave the horse some time after that win, but geared him up for Keeneland last time out where he finished 5th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity to Classic Empire by nearly seven lengths. After Classic Empire’s big win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile that 5th place effort doesn’t look too bad, and there is a chance he’ll improve today with this being his second start around two turns.
#9 J Boys Echo – Has only made two lifetime starts, but this is a scary one to leave off as he stretched out last time out at Keeneland and crushed a maiden special weight field by five and a half lengths. Obviously this is a jump up in class today which has me thinking he may not be able to win the whole thing, but he’s still an interesting prospect as his numbers fit in pretty well with the rest of the field. The key with him in this spot is to see how far he’s progressed after breaking his maiden.
#10 Tip Tap Tapizar – Finished second last time out as the heavy favorite in the Jean Lafitte Stakes which is the local prep for this race. He still ran a big race in that one, but may have gotten a little too far behind as he couldn’t catch the front running Line Judge in the end. This horse along with Gunnevera has ran in the classiest races of the bunch, but Gunnevera beat him pretty easily at Saratoga. Good enough to be around for the minor awards, but not sold on the fact he can win it.
#1 Pat On the Back – Stretched out to a mile last time out, and ran a career high speed figure so that is a very positive sign. The only question mark about that race is the fact it was run over a sloppy surface so perhaps it was the slop that moved this horse up in that race. The other question mark will be the fact this will be his first race against open company. Previously he’s been running in New York against state breds, but his success against state bred horses that are fairly tough is encouraging.
#7 Balandeen – He had to drop to the maiden claiming ranks to win at Del Mar over the summer, but since that win has won an allowance at Churchill Downs and finished second in the Street Sense Stakes to a fairly nice horse in McCracken. His races at Churchill Downs have been better by a wide margin compared to all of his other starts so he might be a Churchill specialist. However, if he can take his show on the road to Delta Downs he might have an outside shot, and I like that Channing Hill will be riding.
#5 Dangerfield – Broke his maiden last time out in a stakes by an eye catching four and a half lengths while stretching out for the first time. I question that he’ll have the class to win this one so I am tossing him, but crazier things have happened.
#3 Thirstforlife – It’s nearly impossible to throw anyone out in this race as Delta Downs has put together a great field. Thirstforlife is a horse I’ve had high hopes for, but from a numbers standpoint he doesn’t look like he’s going to match up well with this group.
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