Delta Downs hosts its flagship card this Saturday: Delta Jackpot Day. The card features eight stakes races, two graded. Both graded events, the $1,000,000 Delta Jackpot (GIII) and the $400,000 Delta Princess, feature juvenile runners. Cajun country has marked itself a lucrative stop along the Derby Trail and the Oaks Trail, and with Preakness winner Exaggerator having come through Vinton on the way to Classic glory, Jackpot Day's stature only continues to grow.
Beyond the two graded events, the day features six more added-money events. The Louisiana Jewel and the Louisiana Legacy also feature juveniles, though both are restricted to Louisiana-bred. The Delta Mile is an open two-turn mile for ages three and older, and the Treasure Chest Stakes is its fillies' complement. The card also features a pair of restricted seven-furlong stakes for runners aged three and older: the Sam's Town Stakes for open company, and the Orleans Stakes for fillies and mares.
A few of the undercard stakes have local links from recent years. The Louisiana Jewel, which features Louisiana-bred freshman fillies, produced Illinois-bred stallion Giant Oak's first stakes winner when Giant Cruiser sprung a 26/1 shocker. The Treasure Chest Stakes, the day's distaff division test, has several recent links to the Chicago circuit. In 2014, Yahilwa made her first stakes score in the Treasure Chest. The following spring, she shipped to Chicago and earned her first graded victory in the Sixty Sails Handicap (GIII) at Hawthorne. Last year, Grade I placed Illinois-bred Diva's Diamond contested the Treasure Chest. She finished second, beaten by Kyriaki in a head-bob.
This piece discusses the graded stakes, the Delta Jackpot and Delta Princess, in detail. Selections for the rest of the stakes on the card will appear in a chart below the discussion of the two graded stakes.
The preview of the Delta Jackpot is jointly published at ThoroFan Handicapper's Corner.
Race 6: Delta Downs Princess Stakes (GIII), two-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:15pm CST
This race is the fillies' counterpart to the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes. It was instituted in 2002, and has been run every year since except for 2005, when Hurricane Rita forced the cancellation of both the Jackpot and the Princess. The most accomplished Delta Princess winner was the 2013 victress: Tepin. Though she is now a multiple Grade I winning Champion on the grass, her first graded stakes winner came over the dirt in Cajun country. Take Charge Brandi, the 2014 Delta Princess winner, is also a Champion; she followed up a Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies win with a victory at Delta, en route to an Eclipse for Champion Two Year Old filly. The first ever Delta Princess winner, My Trusty Cat, also continued to excel. Still the namesake of the local prep, My Trusty Cat won the 2002 edition, and went on to win the 2004 Chicago Handicap (GIII), the 2004 Honorable Miss (GII), and the 2005 Humana Distaff (GI). In addition to a $400,000 purse, there are also Road to the Kentucky Oaks points up for grabs: the top four finishers get 10, 4, 2, and 1 point(s), respectively.
Take Charge Brandi wins the 2014 Delta Princess on the way to her two-year-old championship.
This year's renewal of the Delta Princess has no shortage of speed signed on, with speedsters such as CAROLINE TEST, FLATTER UP, SHANE'S GIRLFRIEND, CAJUN DELTA DAWN, and even JILLY all signed on. Leave it to a filly who has already proven able to handle the Delta Downs course, and who has found her best stride coming from off the pace: GOLDEN MISCHIEF. FLATTER UP had a more favourable time up front in the My Trusty Cat, the local prep, than she will here, and GOLDEN MISCHIEF still ran her down. Here, CAROLINE TEST is the class of that front end, but even so, she does not have enough speed to get an easy lead unless an epic game of chicken ensues, and she has not been able to finish the job in any of her last three. GOLDEN MISCHIEF, on the other hand, has a solid rating gear, strong late pace, and crack local rider Gerard Melancon in the irons. This sets up for GOLDEN MISCHIEF to make it four wins in a row here.
DUDE FANTASY ships in from Florida after two wins in two tries at Gulfstream. She broke her maiden at first asking, and then stepped into Florida-bred stakes company to take the Florida Sire My Dear Girl Stakes next out. Though the Delta Princess will be a step up in class from state-breds, it should be no problem for her to handle a two-turn mile, as the last-out stakes win came going a two-turn mile and a sixteenth. She stretched out well, and took a step forward from her victorious sprint debut. Expect DUDE FANTASY to take well to there being speed in front of her, and to be another making herself a factor at the end.
JILLY ships from California for trainer Bob Baffert, a conditioner who has never won the Delta Princess but who tends to be shrewd with his shippers. Though JILLY has some early speed, she has a pressing gear and even a stalking one. She will be forward, but her last-out maiden win suggests that she could win a fight on the front, and at least be the front end type who is still around to try and fend off the likes of GOLDEN MISCHIEF and DUDE FANTASY.
#1 GOLDEN MISCHIEF (7/2)
#10 DUDE FANTASY (9/2)
#2 JILLY (6/1)
Longshot: #4 FOREST CIRCLE (15/1) was only third in the local prep, but rallied into a merely comfortable pace (for the distance) to finish third behind GOLDEN MISCHIEF and FLATTER UP. She will not likely strike the front in this scenario, but stands to make a better account of herself from off the pace with more pace in the Princess than in the My Trusty Cat. This will be FOREST CIRCLE's first try at a mile, but the Arch on top could give her some gas, and trainer Mike Stidham is a solid 20% with first-time routers. Though winning would require a career best from FOREST CIRCLE, a share underneath at a big price should not be too much to ask.
Race 7: Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (GIII), two-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:45pm CST
The Delta Jackpot may only be a Grade III, but it is one of the richest races on the two-year-old calendar, with a purse of a cool million dollars. In addition to their share of a $1,000,000 purse, the runners in the Delta Jackpot also have the chance to earn Road to the Kentucky Derby points: 10, 4, 2, and 1, respectively, to the top four finishers. It has been run since 2002, except for 2005 when Hurricane Rita forced its cancellation. Just this spring, it produced its first Classic winner: last year's Jackpot winner, Exaggerator, splashed home a convincing winner of the 2016 Preakness Stakes (GI). The race has also produced a two-time Breeders' Cup winner: though 2012 Jackpot winner Goldencents found the Classics too long, he proved to be an excellent miler, and won the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (GI) in both 2013 and 2014. From a more local perspective, Birdbirdistheword won the Delta Jackpot in 2006. Though he never raced in Illinois, he did stand stud in the state after retiring from racing. His progeny included Timeaday, winner of the 2014 Showtime Deb Stakes at Hawthorne.
Birdbirdistheword holds over Pirates Deputy to win the 2006 Delta Jackpot.
The race drew well for morning line favourite GUNNEVERA -- assuming he can take to the smaller track that is Delta Downs, he deserves serious respect. GUNNEVERA comes in second off a freshening, and takes a class drop from a fifth-place effort behind Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire last out in the Breeders' Futurity (GI). A confirmed off-pace type, GUNNEVERA shoulld be well suited by the setup here. LINE JUDGE and HOT SEAN should be forward, DANGERFIELD should be pushing them along, and both of the Casse pair of THIRSTFORLIFE and OUR STORMIN NORMAN have shown some front-end gas as well. GUNNEVERA should be sharper than he was last out, and well tuned to run down the speed.
Behind that, it's price horses who catch this space's eye.
It's always hard to count out Gee Money at Delta Downs, and TIP TAP TAPIZAR gets a long look, as well. Gerard Melancon returns to the irons with TIP TAP TAPIZAR after a second-place finish in the local prep, and this start has him second off the lay. He has tables to turn on GUNNEVERA, behind whom he was third two starts back in the Saratoga Special (GII). He also has tables to turn on LINE JUDGE, who beat him in the Jean Lafitte (the local prep) last out. But, LINE JUDGE will have far more to handle up front. And, unlike GUNNEVERA, TIP TAP TAPIZAR has proven he can handle the Delta course. On pace, though his maiden win came on the lead, TIP TAP TAPIZAR came form off the pace to win the Sapling two back, and replicated that style for his second in the local prep. A reasonable step up in form coming second off the lay, and TIP TAP TAPIZAR figures at a price. He is certainly the most attractive option coming from the local prep.
PAT ON THE BACK tries open stakes company for the first time here, as all five of his career starts thus far have come against New York-breds. But, on speed, he fits with this set. He has also shown pace versatility. Last out, he fought early, kicked clear, and scored by daylight in his first time going a mile. Even though that came on the front, his sprint outings at Saratoga, Finger Lakes, and even Belmont suggest that he has everything he needs to stay engaged and competitive from off the front end as well. It also stands out who has the call on PAT ON THE BACK: though Robby Albarado rode well-connected J BOYS ECHO in his first two starts, he instead turns up to ride PAT ON THE BACK.
#6 GUNNEVERA (5/2)
#10 TIP TAP TAPIZAR (10/1)
#1 PAT ON THE BACK (15/1)
Longshot: #7 BALANDEEN (10/1) has shown some speed, but has been able to both fight and rate, depending on the circumstances. Pace is the biggest question, but there are other things to recommend him at a price. BALANDEEN finished second last out in the Street Sense Stakes at a one-turn mile, and being by Bernardini out of Mamma Kimbo (a Grade II winner going a mile and a sixteenth), two turns ought to suit him. A reasonable step forward in his first try going two turns makes BALANDEEN a contender. The humans suit, too. Trainer Chris Hartman has a solid 17% win rate with runners hitting the road. And, his last two starts suggest a solid rapport with rider Channing Hill, who ships to Cajun country to ride.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's stakes action at Delta Downs. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!