The Derby Trail Continues at Delta Downs

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Are you ready for some Kentucky Derby prep race excitement? If so, then you’re going to be thrilled with the racing action over the next two weeks! On November 21st, Delta Downs will play host to the $1,000,000 Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III), and on November 28th, the focus of the racing world will turn to Aqueduct and Churchill Downs, where the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) will be held. Additionally, the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool will begin on November 26th, giving bettors a chance to lock in great odds on some of their early Derby favorites. Let’s kick things off by analyzing the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes!

Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) 

# Horse Jockey Trainer Last race
1 Forevamo Colby Hernandez Albert Stall, Jr. 1st Jean Lafitte Stakes (VIDEO)
2 Memories of Winter Patrick Valenzuela Anthony Margotta, Jr. 1st Allowance Optional Claiming (VIDEO)
3 Sunny Ridge Irad Ortiz, Jr. Jason Servis 2nd Champagne Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
4 Whitmore Robby Albarado Ron Moquett 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
5 Harlan Punch Gerard Melancon Tom Amoss 2nd Jean Lafitte Stakes (VIDEO)
6 Texas Jambalaya E. M. Martin, Jr. Terry Eoff 3rd Jean Lafitte Stakes (VIDEO)
7 Found Money Mario Gutierrez Doug O’Neill 2nd Golden State Juvenile Stakes (VIDEO)
8 Cowboy Classic J. Inirio Heidi Crane 3rd Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)
9 Exaggerator Kent Desormeaux Keith Desormeaux 4th Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) (VIDEO)
10 Iron Dome S. Bourque Kenneth Marshall 1st Maiden Special Weight (VIDEO)

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Exaggerator, and I think he has a great chance to win on Saturday. The Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) winner ran very well when second in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) against some of the best two-year-olds in the country, and will be taking a drop in class for the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes. If this race were held on a regular one-mile oval, I would say that Exaggerator is an absolute standout, but Delta is actually a six-furlong bullring with sharp turns—will Exaggerator be able to handle the conditions?

I think that he can. In general, the Delta Jackpot has been dominated by horses coming from major tracks such as Santa Anita and Belmont Park. That’s not to say that you should underestimate horses that prepped at Delta and have experience over the course—they have run very well too—but experience over a bullring track hasn’t been critical to winning this race. Much more important is to have tactical speed and a good post position. Front-runners and pace trackers have fared much better in the Jackpot than deep closers, as have horses breaking from inside and outside post positions, particularly the latter. According to post positions statistics compiled by Equibase, posts 1-2-3 and 7-8-9 have had a significant edge over the middle post positions at this Delta meet, and this trend has been reflected in the results of the Jackpot over the last several years. Since 2008, no horses starting from posts 4-5-6 have won the race, and only one has finished in the exacta.

Fortunately for Exaggerator, he fits the bill on both accounts, possessing both good tactical speed (he tracked the pace in the Juvenile) and a good post position (he’s drawn gate nine.) I love the confidence that his connections are showing by bringing him back just three weeks after the Juvenile, and I think he’s going to be very tough to beat. He is my selection to win.

Another colt that deserves a lot of respect is Sunny Ridge, runner-up in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park. His only poor showing came in the Sanford Stakes (gr. III) when he had a rough trip, and he handled two turns nicely when winning the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth. But did he benefit from the sloppy track in the Champagne, and can he repeat that strong effort over a dry track? I believe that he can, but it’s something to think about.

Foremavo is another logical contender, for after finishing fourth and second in a pair of maiden races at Saratoga and Churchill—beaten by Sheikh of Sheikhs, Tom’s Ready, Portfolio Manager, and Gift Box—he shipped to Delta and showed an affinity for the course while winning the Jean Lafitte Stakes by three-quarters of a length. He’s drawn well in post one and will be ridden by Colby Hernandez, who has a 29% win rate at this meet, but my gut feeling is that Forevamo—while a logical contender for the trifecta and superfecta—isn’t quite good enough to win this race. It’s important to note that the top three finishers in the Jean Lafitte all rallied from far behind, suggesting that the setup of the race favored deep closers.

To add value to the exotics, I will strongly consider Whitmore and Found Money. The former showed great tactical speed and an excellent finishing kick while winning a six-furlong maiden race at Churchill by 7 ¼ lengths on November 6th, and while he’s running back on short rest, it’s interesting to note that his connections nominated him to this race before he’d made his debut. I think this colt has the potential to be a major factor on the Derby trail starting this Saturday.

As for Found Money, he hails from the barn of Doug O’Neill, who won the 2012 Delta Jackpot with Goldencents. With the exception of a fifth-place finish in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) behind Nyquist and Swipe—who came back to run 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile—Found Money has never missed the exacta in five starts, including a pair of runner-up efforts behind the unbeaten Smokey Image in the I’m Smokin Stakes and the Golden State Juvenile Stakes. In terms of Beyer speed figures, Found Money needs to step up a bit to compete against Exaggerator and Sunny Ridge, but fits right in against the rest of the field and figures to set or press the early pace, which could give him a tactical advantage. I think Exaggerator will prove hard to beat, but Found Money is my close second choice, and I might even play him on top if he stays near his morning line odds of 6-1.

Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes?

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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