Cool Million on the line in Delta Jackpot
By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers Off
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.
The race drew well for morning line favorite 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 should 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.