11/18/2010 4:29PM

Bigger purse sweetens up Delta Downs Jackpot

Tom Cooley
Bruce Levine, the trainer of Bug Juice, thinks "any one of five, six, seven horses" could win the Jackpot.

Sweeping changes have been made to Saturday’s Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot in an effort to increase its visibility, and the race that will be put on Saturday in the small Louisiana town of Vinton should catch the attention of handicappers nationwide. Eight stakes winners are in the 10-horse field, with 2-year-olds shipping in from California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, and Texas.

“Any one of five, six, seven horses can definitely win it,” said Bruce Levine, the New York-based trainer who saddles top contender Bug Juice. “I think the public will probably have a hard time making someone a stick-out favorite. The favorite will probably be 3-1.”

Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Jackpot was introduced in 2002, and while subtle changes have been made to the race from season to season, Saturday’s renewal has a whole new look. Its purse has been returned to $1 million for the first time since 2007, up from $750,000 a year ago. Delta has also moved the Jackpot from its traditional first Friday night in December to a Saturday afternoon slot in November and finds itself in a good place, since it will not be competing with Fair Grounds, which begins its meet next Thursday. The supporting card has also been strengthened and the Jackpot, along with the Grade 3, $500,000 Delta Downs Princess, combine to help make the program the most lucrative of the year in Louisiana.

In all, there will be eight stakes on the card worth $2.3 million, with the fourth through seventh races to be linked by a $100,000 guaranteed pick four that ends with the Jackpot. Horseplayers will have to go deep in that final leg, as little appears to separate Blue Laser and Classic Legacy, the first and third-place finishers in the Grade 3 Grey at Woodbine; Sweet Ducky, a two-time stakes winner at Monmouth Park; Bug Juice, who romped by a combined 17 lengths in a pair of New York-bred stakes; Rush Now, a stakes winner at the distance at Delaware Park; Gourmet Dinner, a winner of two legs of the Florida Stallion Stakes; and Aces N Kings, a top 2-year-old in Louisiana and Texas.

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Sweet Ducky has answered more Jackpot questions than most of his rivals. He is 2 for 2 at two turns, with both wins coming in stakes. Those races came on dirt, and under Joe Bravo, who has the mount again Saturday. In addition, Sweet Ducky shipped in early to train over Delta’s six-furlong track.

He comes into the Jackpot off a four-length win in the $70,000 Seton Hall at Monmouth Park on Oct. 23. Sweet Ducky drew off the last sixteenth, while giving each of his rivals six pounds, noted his trainer, Kelly Breen.

“I think his last race, he really showed to me that he’s putting it all together,” Breen said. “I think he’s just starting to learn about being competitive. I think he likes to win. When he did it before, it was just on raw talent. Now, he’s learning to actually be competitive and learning what being a racehorse is all about.”

Sweet Ducky’s other stakes win came in the $100,000 Garden State at Monmouth over Astrology, who came back to win the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill in his next start.

Blue Laser was a half-length winner of the 1 1/16-mile Grey over Polytrack on Oct. 10. Before that, he won his maiden in his two-turn debut, also at Woodbine.

“His last two victories he’s been passed and come back and won with sheer determination,” said Mark Casse, who dead-heated for the win in the 2007 Jackpot with Turf War and who trains Blue Laser for WinStar Farm, owner of 2009 Jackpot hero Rule.

Casse noted Blue Laser is bred to be a good one as a half-brother to Grade 2 winners The Daddy and With a City. He has given the mount to Shaun Bridgmohan.

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“Blue Laser’s going to want to be pretty close up to the pace,” Casse said. “He doesn’t have to be on the lead. We’ll leave that up to Shaun.”

Bug Juice could be showing the way. He has used his speed to win 3 of 4 starts, and on Wednesday worked a bullet three-eighths at Delta.

“I studied the race some and if he breaks clean, I think he’ll probably be in front,” said Levine.

Bug Juice will be making his two-turn debut, and owns the field’s best Beyer Figure, a 91.

“I always felt he would go two turns, but like everything else you never know until they do it,” Levine said. “He’s by an A.P. Indy sire, so there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t route.”

Javier Castellano has the mount.

The Jackpot will be broadcast on TVG and HRTV, with Caton Bredar to provide onsite coverage for the latter. First post is 1 p.m. Central.

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