12/04/2008 12:00AM

Jackpot's best talent pool yet

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Barbara D. Livingston
Terrain, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, will add blinkers for Friday night's Delta Jackpot.

This could be the breakthrough year for the Delta Jackpot.

In its third running as a graded race, it has perhaps its best chance ever to produce starters for the Kentucky Derby. So far, just three Jackpot graduates have made it to the Derby in the five-year history of the race. But Friday night's field for the Grade 3, $750,000 Delta Jackpot is deep and battle-tested. Terrain and West Side Bernie, who exit the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and Skipadate, who ran in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, are among the 10 horses set to start in the richest race of the Delta meet. Then there's Big Drama, who swept the Florida Stallion Stakes series at Calder. He is seeking his fifth straight win, as is Kick On, who captured the local Jackpot prep, the $150,000 Jean Lafitte. Also dangerous is the speedy Trinity Magic, an undefeated colt who has won back to back New York-bred stakes at Belmont Park.

"It's an interesting race." said David Fawkes, who trains Big Drama.

The winner will take home $450,000 in graded earnings, enough to secure a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate five months from now. The Jackpot's best Derby representative has been Closing Argument, who finished second in both the 2004 Jackpot and the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

The Jackpot will lead a card of six stakes worth $1.5 million at the Vinton, La., track and shares the program with the Grade 3, $500,000 Delta Princess for 2-year-old fillies. Both races will be part of a $100,000-guaranteed pick four that runs from raceso5-8.

Terrain could rule as a slight favorite following consecutive Grade 1 starts. He was a clear second to Square Eddie in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 4, then came back and ran fourth, beaten just 2 1/4 lengths by wire-to-wire winner Midshipman, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.

"We thought he ran a good race, but it was a spotty race, so we've been training in blinkers and we're going to run him in blinkers," said Al Stall Jr., who trains Terrain. "He's done everything a little bit more straight down the racetrack, and focused. Who's to say whether that's a correlation to a good race, but it's an experiment that we're going to go ahead and continue on with."

Terrain, who will be ridden by Jamie Theriot, rallied from well back in the Juvenile.

"I'm sure he'll let the speed run away from him a while and hopefully he can close," Stall said. "It isn't the easiest thing to do at Delta, but in the history of the Delta Jackpot, the closers have done extremely well. So, we'll just see how it goes."

The Jackpot pace is a hard read. The horses will have a three-furlong run out of the chute to the first turn in the 1o1/16-mile Jackpot, which is being run around two turns, on a six-furlong oval. Trinity Magic will be making his two-turn debut, and with a good start has a chance to steal away under Calvin Borel. But he also could be pushed along by Three Part Harmony, or seasoned horses like Big Drama and Kick On. A decent pace would not only be good for Terrain, but also for West Side Bernie.

West Side Bernie won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park in September. He then advanced to the Breeders' Cup, and from post 12 he finished sixth after racing in 10th early.

"It was a little disappointing in that it was the only race that they didn't come from behind," said Kelly Breen, who trains West Side Bernie. "But he only got beat three lengths, and he tried his heart out."

West Side Bernie has been based at Delta for about two weeks, working a bullet four furlongs in 47.60 seconds Nov. 29.

"He seems to like the track," Breen said. "The turns don't bother him."

Trinity Magic owns the field's best last-race Beyer Figure, a 99, for his seven-length win in the $100,000 Sleepy Hollow on Oct.o18.

"I loved the mile he ran the other day," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Trinity Magic and believes he is a good candidate to handle all the new variables he will face at Delta.

"He's very good mentally," he said. "Delta is different, as far as night racing, and hopefully, he'll keep his head about him and run his race."

Asmussen will also start Retap, who was second in the Kentucky Cup.

"He's been very durable, like the Tapits have been," he said. "He came out of the box running, and has been consistent all year."

Fawkes said he believes that Big Drama's build will enable him to be effective on the six-furlong oval. He comes off a Calder main track that many believe is similar to Delta.

"He's a very good put together horse, well-balanced, and looking at him, I thought maybe he would do well on the bullring," he said. "He's very athletic."