10/17/2011 3:17PM

Delta Downs opener starts road to the Jackpot


Delta Downs in Vinton, La., opens Wednesday night on the countdown to the Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot. The biggest race of the meet is exactly a month away, with the prep for the 2-year-old fixture, the $200,000 Jean Lafitte, to be run Saturday night. The races are two of the highlights of the 88-date season that will run through March 17, 2012.

The Jackpot, at 1 1/16 miles, will share a card seven other stakes including the Grade 3, $500,000 Delta Downs Princess. The races are worth more than $2.2 million on what is the richest program of the season Nov. 19. Last year, the track moved the marquee card from a Friday night to a Saturday afternoon, and the change will again be in effect this year at Delta.

“Making it during the daytime gave the races more exposure because more people watch during the day than during the night,” said Chris Warren, director of racing for Delta. “We did have a record handle of $3.8 million.”

Delta also had a $100,000 guaranteed pick four on the card a year ago, and he said the bet would return. He said it is scheduled to be offered on races 4-7, with the Jackpot expected to go as the seventh race. There will be an 11-race card that afternoon with a special post of 1:15 p.m. Central, said Warren.

The Jean Lafitte is back serving as a prep for the Jackpot after being run as a 3-year-old race a year ago because Delta’s meet opened a little later, said Warren. The Jean Laffite had 95 nominations, with the field for the one-mile race to be drawn Wednesday. It will share a card with the $150,000 My Trusty Cat, which is a prep for the Delta Princess.

The other major card this meet at Delta Downs comes after the calendar turns. The $1 million Louisiana Premiere Night program of stakes for statebreds is Feb. 4.

Purses for the meet are projected to average $220,000 a day, said Warren. He said there have also been a few stakes added to the calendar, with the racing program fueled in part by the 1,620 slot machines located in a ontrack casino. Warren said in changes for the new meet, the track has made the pick three a fifty-cent minimum after the minimum was $1.

“Now the trifecta, pick three, and pick four is a fifty-cent minimum,” he said.

Steve Kuypers has been promoted to general manager of Delta, with Jack Bernsmeier, director of Louisiana properties for Delta’s parent company, Boyd Gaming, now overseeing a new property for the company in Mississippi. In other changes, Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, the daughter-in-law of Hall of Fame jockey Braulio Baeza, is a new steward at the meet. The new head clocker is Jason Grudzien.

Delta also has installed a new timing system since last meet, and has a new graphics package for its signal, said Warren.

The track has no shortage of horse power heading into the season, and the 11-race cards for Wednesday and Thursday night each drew 127 entrants. Delta will be the lone Thoroughbred meet operating in Louisiana until Fair Grounds opens on Thanksgiving Day. In addition, the track’s Texas neighbor located two hours away, Sam Houston, will not open its meet until January.

“I know we’re going to be swamped [with entries] the first part of the meet,” said Warren.

Sam Breaux, who won the training title last year at Delta, is back for the new meet. Among riders, Tracy Hebert and Don Simington will be part of a competitive colony that includes Diego Saenz and Gerard Melancon.