By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")
On Saturday, Delta Downs in Louisiana will host the biggest race card of their season by far; a spectacular day of racing highlighted by eight stakes races, including the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) and the $400,000 Delta Downs Princess Stakes (gr. III). With many top-class horses entered across the card, and with numerous multi-race wagers from which to choose, the racing action could be a jackpot not just for the horses and their connections, but for bettors who can pick the right horses. It’s a day of racing you won’t want to miss, so let’s start handicapping!
Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III)
A field of ten has been entered in this million-dollar race, and a glance at the entries reveals a wide-open race without a clear-cut favorite. The morning line choice at 5-2 is Mr. Z, based at least in part off his respectable fifth-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) last time out. With the exception of surprising defeat as the favorite in the Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) three starts back, Mr. Z has never run a bad race, and you have to admire a colt with as much versatility and durability as Mr. Z has demonstrated in his career. But it’s worth noting that he has won only once from six starts, and that was in his debut back in June. He can win this race, but his edge over this field does not appear to be substantial, so I’ll take a stand against him at short odds.
In general, horses with experience at Delta Downs—which is a six-furlong oval, rather than a mile—have fared very well in the Delta Downs Jackpot, which makes Golden Actor a very appealing candidate for the top spot. The son of Curlin showcased a strong late rally to finish second in his debut at Gulfstream Park, then fired off an impressive gate-to-wire win going a mile at Gulfstream Park West. He took another big step forward in his third and most recent start, tracking the pace in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs before drawing clear to win by 4 ½ lengths. Since that race, he’s turned in a pair of bullet half-mile workouts at Delta Downs, and with a good draw in post six, he should be able to work out a great trip. He is my selection.
One longshot to consider is Saratoga Heater, who has won his last two starts (including a state-bred stakes race) at Saratoga and Belmont. From a Beyer speed figure perspective, he fits well in this race, and after making all three of his starts over wet, sealed tracks, he might appreciate the shift to a fast track. His ability to set the pace or come from well behind is another advantage, and the presence of top jockey Joel Rosario is a positive. I think he can get involved for the exotics at around 15-1.
Delta Downs Princess Stakes (gr. III)
Handicapping this race is pretty simple on paper—either Take Charge Brandi repeats the performance that won her the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) earlier this month, which would in all likelihood win the Delta Downs Princess, or she returns to her pre-Breeders’ Cup form and runs off the board. The tricky part is determining which will happen!
Personally, I’m going to side against Take Charge Brandi. In my opinion, her Breeders’ Cup win was aided by a speed-favoring track, and even still, the Beyer speed figure she recorded that day doesn’t tower over this field. Throw in the fact that her previous route races were not very good, and that she will be trying to shift her talents to a bullring racetrack just three weeks after the Breeders’ Cup, and I think you have the recipe for an upset.
Once again, I’ll look to a horse with experience at Delta for the top spot, and in this case, that horse is Vivian Da Bling. Trained by Bret Calhoun, Vivian Da Bling has won three of her four starts in completely unchallenged fashion, and in her lone defeat, she ran a good fourth in the Adirondack Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga while finishing seven lengths ahead of Take Charge Brandi. Last time out, she set a fast pace en route to a dominating win in the seven-furlong My Trusty Cat Stakes at Delta Downs, and while the stretch-out to a mile could prove a question mark, she figures to work out a good trip either leading or stalking Take Charge Brandi early on. From there, I think she’ll prove difficult to catch.
Who do you like this weekend?