Say the word jackpot and most people think Vegas or Atlantic City. Among racing fans however jackpot brings to mind one of the richest the races for two-year-olds in America, second only to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It’s the GIII Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes: a 1 1/16 mile dirt race hosted by Delta Downs in Vinton, Louisiana and sponsored by the Cajun racetrack and casino’s owner, Boyd Gaming.
Not yet a decade old, the race was inaugurated in December 2002 as a 1 mile race to be run annually for the generous purse of $1 million. It wasn’t long before the distance was increased though, being lengthened to 1 1/16 mile the following year. And it’s not been without its growing pains either—both natural and economic. In 2005 the race had to be cancelled due to the severe damage the track suffered at the winds and rain of Hurricane Rita. The country’s economic crisis affected the racing world, too, as we know, and Delta Downs was no exception; in 2008 and 2009 the purse was temporarily reduced to $750K before returning to its original $1 million in 2010.
Coming back after the Hurricane Rita layoff, the race received its graded stakes rating in 2006, giving a GIII win to Birdbirdistheword. The GIII rating grew the Jackpot, attracting bigger fields and better mounts to the track. The following year brought another first for the race, its first dead heat. That year the win was shared by Z Humor (Garrett Gomez up) and Turf War (ridden by Calvin Borel) who both hit the wire at 1:45:43. In 2008 the speed record for the race was set by Big Drama, who finished the race in 1:44:72 with Eibar Coa aboard.
Often a precursor to winter Derby prep races such as the GI Florida Derby and the GII Fountain of Youth Stakes, the Delta Jackpot has been, in all but one case, a first time graded stakes win for the winner. While it’s no guarantee of graded stakes wins after—with only Rule and Big Drama achieving wins in graded stakes races post-Jackpot—it has been a good indicator of graded stakes potential, with six of nine winners hitting the board in graded stakes races across the country.
The race hasn’t developed yet into any type of indicator of Breeders’ Cup potential, with only Big Drama making it into the GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 201o—winning it to boot. Likewise, up until last year, it hasn’t yet attracted many juveniles fom the ranks of Breeders’ Cup entrants, other than Z Humor, whose race immediately prior to the Jackpot was the 2007 GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, in which he finished 5th.
This year’s race will be run on Saturday, November 19, as the feature on a card with eight stakes races—including the $500K GIII Delta Princess—and purses totaling over $2 million. For the second year running the race has attracted a record number of nominations. While I would have imagined that the move to a November date would have been a deterrent for Breeders’ Cup contenders (it being such a short break in between races), among the horses vying for post positions in this year’s Jackpot is Drill, the Baffert-trained horse who ran in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing 10th behind Hansen, and Jake Mo, whose run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint earned him a fifth-place finish. Entries will be made final on Wednesday, but in the meantime, view the pre-entries here.
For all you handicappers out there, Delta Downs is holding a $10K Handicapping Tournament on Jackpot day. For entry information click here. For racing fans that aren't bettors the casino has a special, limited edition $100K Jackpot scratch-off ticket; it will be available on site and to members of the Boyd Gaming B Connected club.