The Delta Downs Jackpot

Delta Downs 11/19/2016

Race 7-$1,000,000

Post Time: 2:45 PM PST

The Delta Downs Jackpot

Analysis by Michael Patricks

As daylight gradually contracts and steadily gives way to longer nights so does the mass quantity of graded stakes races post Breeders’ Cup.   Hardened handicappers will most likely focus their attention on a bevy of small stakes races to be offered at Laurel Park this weekend, including the Grade III Frank DeFrancis Dash for $250,000, which is sure to be a good one.  However, since 10 Kentucky Derby points are up for grabs in the Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot, and 2016 Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator won this race last year, we’ll turn our focus to this competitive affair which has drawn a gritty field of 10 runners to compete around the Vinton, Louisiana bull ring.

***Inclement weather could be in the forecast, be advised the foregoing analysis was done with a fast track in mind.***

1-Pat On the Back 15/1 ML- New York-bred arrives in Louisiana seeking four victories in five starts after cleaning up on state-breds, including a convincing score last time at 20/1 in the Sleepy Hollow.  This useful son of Congrats has been extremely well managed in his campaign while racing without Lasix or any race day medications in his past performances.  His versatility in running style is without a doubt a feather in his cap and coming out of the races he exits, he will certainly be a nice price when the gates fly back.  The chief issue of concern with him is the fact he will have to run faster than he ever has before to make an imprint while taking his racetrack with him in the process.  He notably picks up Robby Albarado for Saturday’s event but may risk getting pinned down along the inside, where he could take a ton of dirt while facing the unenviable task of trying to run down more accomplished animals to achieve victory.  Sporting three wins in five starts I would not say that this is the impossible dream, but I’d happily give him more than a pat on the back and congratulate him on this accomplishment should he get his head down on the wire in the Jackpot.  Albarado and McPeek won this race in 2006 with Birdbirdistheword and this one is a trier; consider in your gimmicks.

2-Line Judge 6/1 ML- Played the role of big man on campus at Canterbury before proving his quality last time at 8/1 in the Jean Lafitte, Delta’s stepping stone to the Delta Downs Jackpot.  In the Jean Lafitte, Line Judge benefitted from a perfect trip in a smaller field, able to come home the final quarter-mile in 26.3 seconds, a fraction that simply will not be fast enough to get the job done this time around.  Now, you’re being asked to take a smaller price on the morning line than you received last time at the closing  odds of 8/1 and you’re asking L.J. to beat even better horses with his hand being forced from an inside draw.  No doubt this is a talented two-year-old, but I get the distinct feeling the fun is over for this guy and when push comes to shove from the company he’ll be entertaining on the front end, can’t help but think he’ll be softened up and besieged by the onslaught of quality closers he faces in opposition.  To be clear, Line Judge deserves a chance to prove himself against this Grade III cast, but if you missed the wedding at 8/1 last time, don’t go to the funeral at a lesser price today; calling a foot fault on him.

3-Thirstforlife 8/1 ML- Casse: Part One–Ran his eyeballs out last time at Keeneland while clinging on desperately over a tiring, good surface.  He truly laid his body down in a long drive where he prevailed in a multiple horse photo when you could essentially throw a blanket over them at the finish.  He was thought to be a good one as evidenced by his unveiling, where he competed against stakes horses at Churchill Downs, finishing a credible third.  After graduating, he failed to make a real dent in the Best Pal where he was summarily dispatched by Klimt, who himself has been a bit disappointing in his last couple efforts.  A fast surface on Saturday could help his cause, but what truly hinders him in my view is his inability to seemingly pass horses when it matters most, as that’s something he’ll almost certainly have to do if he wants to be anything beyond an ornamental also-ran in the jackpot.  With so much speed signed on in the race, it’s very difficult to envision his usual tactics prevailing here.  Expect Casse to have Geroux take back a bit and hope he can stalk and finish.  If he’s able to relax, he certainly has a puncher’s chance in the end–but if he’s hell bent for leather on making the front end once again, he’ll be nothing more than a pace casualty when he attempts to lead them behind enemy lines; leaning against.

4-Our Stormin Norman 8/1 ML-Casse: Part Two—Uncoupled 8/1 stable mate ships in with Thirstforlife off his maiden breaker at Keeneland, a comprehensive front running score at 9/5.  It appears the blinkers did the trick for him last time as his Beyer grew by a whopping 31 points.  This son of Blame has faced pretty nice horses in his maiden efforts and several next out winners have emerged from those contests, and that’s worth noting.  Leparoux sees fit to spend his Saturday atop this one’s back and it’s quite possible the best is yet to come from ‘Norman, especially when hailing from this potent outfit.  The pin prick into his proverbial balloon stems from the simple fact that with the addition of blinkers and how he took the race by storm from the get go on graduation day, it’s going to be awfully tough to get this guy to settle down early as he’s sure to be amped up between the ears, under his new hood.  There’s an approximate three-furlong run from the gate into the first turn and it’s easy to envision this guy being super pumped up with that type of runway in front of him considering Line Judge, Dangerfield, and Hot Sean will all have the same idea in mind.  Leparoux may be able to get this guy to relax, and if he can, then who knows?  Just think that will be much easier said than done.  Believe ‘Norman may have a rude awakening in his first start against winners, but will earmark him for other sprint races down the road; making other plans.

5-Dangerfield 12/1 ML- Got quite a bit of respect in his Pleasanton graduation when toppling winners by an open length margin.  Aqua Frio came back to win sprinting over the tapeta at Golden Gate Fields and Only You Babe who finished third, was the best two year-old filly competing in northern California at the time. Doug O’Neill has put three consecutive six furlong works into this guy in an effort to inflate his tires and does have a Delta Downs Jackpot victory in his past with Goldencents (2012).  It’s difficult to know for sure just how much horsepower Dangerfield possesses, and that’s no joke.  He was handled with relative ease by southern California maidens before asserting himself against northern California winners.  If he can step forward off his Pleasanton effort you’d be foolish to toss him out, and keep in mind that O’Neill enlists Flavien Prat to ride.  Given his connections’ tendency to strike with these types of runners and since he doesn’t appear to be a “need the lead type”, I’m leaning towards including him in my wagering party; wild card sort makes a lot of sense with a heads-up ride.

6-Gunnevera 5/2 ML- Morning line favorite reunites with Javier Castellano after posting a considerable upset in the Saratoga Special when victorious at 9/1 odds in a five horse field.  Gunnevera benefitted from blistering fractions in the Saratoga Special and cleaned up on the embattled leaders, with him and Recruiting Ready 14 lengths clear of third.  Took the overland route in the Breeders’ Futurity when chasing Classic Empire who came back to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile with a tenacious effort in holding off Not This Time.  Off company lines alone it would appear that this race falls on Gunnevera’s racket to serve out.  There is a litany of speed sign on, he’s capitalized in a similar fashion before, and he’s got two bullets in the holster from Gulfstream Park West to offer in preparation for this.  His connections remained realistic by keeping him out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and aiming for this Grade III spot.  My question surrounding him is whether he is still improving –or has he already plateaued?  He needs to take a step forward in the Jackpot as his evenly-run Breeders’ Futurity effort is only good enough to make marginal headway in this spot.  Gunnevera is an obvious must-use in exotics and multi-race wagers based on his paper tiger status, but I’m looking elsewhere for top honors.

7-Balandeen 10/1 ML- Dueled three wide in the one-turn mile of the Street Sense when chasing and eventually running down the post time favorites in that event before eventually surrendering to the unbeaten McCraken.  Balandeen and the other pace setters did all the heavy lifting for McCraken to make his bold move and to this guy’s credit he hung around for a clear cut second place finish at a healthy price, though he could not stall the winner late.  Balandeen will likely be pushing the pace setters along once again with Dangerfield just to his inside employing a similar tactic.  Appreciate that Balandeen will likely be in the outer flow and expect him to make a midrace move into contention somewhere along the back stretch and entering the far turn.  He will have to hold off some of the true closers like Gunnevera and J Boys Echo, but fully expect this guy to give a good account of himself while outrunning his odds in the process.  Trainer Chris Hartman knows how to ship and win and has done well with limited starts in Cajun country.  By Benardini, you can expect this guy to continue eating up the ground; logical player at a nice number and expect this son out of Mamma Kimbo to grab a nice slice of the pie.

8-Hot Sean 7/2 ML- Southern California speedball hails from the Bob Baffert outfit and retains hustling pilot Martin Pedroza for the Delta Downs Jackpot.  After a second place finish on debut, Hot Sean took care of business at odds-on in his graduation before once again doing the same against four rivals last time out in a first level allowance score.  Hot Sean appears likely to help set up a hot pace with his wide draw and you can expect Pedroza to put him in the race early, trying to keep him from taking too much dirt in his face.  It’s not too difficult to envision ‘Sean surviving the battle, but eventually succumbing in the proverbial war to the wire, with some real proven runners launching bids from just off his heels.  Hot Sean will certainly have to adorn himself with not just heavy war paint but also full artillery of body gear if he’s going to be the last one standing at the wire in this one.  Young Bob Baffert runners are capable of dramatic improvement at any stage in proceedings, but based on Baffert’s reputation, you’re taking a severe underlay on him if the morning line odds are an accurate reflection of the public’s perception; demand an overlay if you’re going to back him; caveat emptor.

9-J Boys Echo 8/1 ML- Likely underlay at post time shows up as a talented, lightly raced sort who looks to have the perfect running style for the Jackpot.  After a tardy break in his debut, J Boys Echo ran on determinedly to finish a willing second at 8/1.  Stretching out to two turns naturally suited this guy to a tee, where he was able to stalk the pace and pull clear to a powerhouse victory of better than five emphatic lengths, showing he had plenty left in the proverbial tank.  Interestingly, his customary pilot defects to the inside runner at a much bigger price and Romans employs Cajun Kent Desormeaux to do the steering on Saturday.  Obviously, Desormeaux knows the track and would take pride in winning this $1,000,000 race as there is nothing like winning when you come back home.  Expect the morning line odds on him to dip somewhere in the neighborhood of 5/1 at post time, which still provides a good measure of value if you’re backing him on top.  This son of Mineshaft should love the added ground and he will most likely be launching a formidable bid in tandem with Gunnevera while approaching the half-mile pole and unquestionably be heard from in the stretch; logical contender for all the marbles.

10- Tip Tap Tapizar 10/1 ML- Ran in the Jean Lafitte with plenty of cover and chased Line Judge around the track, unable to make headway on that one who was able to set soft fractions on the front end.  The tables have most certainly turned in terms of a pace standpoint this time around and that will likely boost this one’s appeal to price hunters.  Gerard Melancon has long been one of the perennial riders on the Louisiana circuit so it should make this one’s appeal that much more pronounced with a local pilot astride.  Going from inside to outside, Tip Tap Tapizar will have to find some cover and avoid losing ground into the first turn. But, with a three furlong run to the turn and so much other speed in front of him, expect Melancon to get him a nice spot somewhere in the middle flight, ahead of Gunnevera and J Boys Echo.  The question is simply whether he is good enough. The Steve Asmussen barn is one that you have to respect, but curbing my enthusiasm is the staunch reality that this guy was manhandled by 15 lengths against Gunnevera in the Saratoga Special and then life and death to get up over Holiday Bonus in the Sapling, who hasn’t come back to do much since.  His comeback effort last time was reasonable behind a soft pace, but it’s my opinion he’ll need to take a couple big steps forward if he’s to threaten for top honors; other appeal more.

Consensus: 7-9-6-5

Lucky 7 for yours truly in the Jackpot. I foresee Balandeen and the lightly raced J Boys Echo coming to the wire with Gunnevera closing and Dangerfield trying hard from just behind the top three.  Give Pat On the Back an extra push in your wagers if the race comes cup wet.