12/02/2004 12:00AM

Norman remains on fence with trio


VINTON, La. - The outcome of the $75,000 Sam's Town, one of four stakes on the $1 million Delta Jackpot card at Delta Downs on Saturday, will likely depend on what trainer Cole Norman decides to do with his three starters: Pie N Burger, Intelligent Male, and Shaky Town.

All three figure prominently in the seven-furlong race, which will be run around two turns. But the trio were also entered in the $60,000 Tenacious Handicap at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds on Saturday. Pie N Burger and Intelligent Male are coupled in the Sam's Town as an entry for Kagele Brothers, and Shaky Town would race as a separate betting interest.

"I'm going to call Tom Kagele up later today, and we'll pull both races up and see where we have the best shot," said Norman.

Pie N Burger is approaching $1 million in earnings. Just two starts ago, Pie N Burger was second to Roses in May in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic. Roses in May went on to run second to Ghostzapper in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Pie N Burger finished an uncharacteristic seventh in the $100,000 Metroplex Mile at Lone Star Park on the Breeders' Cup undercard.

"He didn't have a very good break, and his races have been on the lead or right there close to it, and they got away from us," said Norman. "It was not his way of doing it. He's got to be on the lead. We threw the race out."

Pie N Burger has since worked a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.40. He has drawn post 2 and will be ridden by Jamie Theriot. Tracy Hebert has been named on Intelligent Male, who was 10th last out in the Metroplex Mile.

"He was carried wide," said Norman. "In one-mile races at Lone Star, you're either up in the race or on the outside fence. It just took the run out of him. He's doing well. I think he'll be good."

Intelligent Male won four straight races before the Metroplex Mile, including the $145,000 Claiming Crown Jewel for trainer Wayne Catalano. Intelligent Male was later sold to Kagele Brothers and transferred to Norman.

Akanti, winner of the $50,000 Blue Skies at Louisiana Downs, is the chief threat to the three trained by Norman.

Scarberry surrounds Treasure Chest

To win the $75,000 Treasure Chest, one will have to break through a three-horse entry trained by Howard Scarberry. Each of Scarberry's starters - Baileys Affair, Took Out, and Due to Win - brings strong credentials to the Treasure Chest, a seven-furlong race for fillies and mares that will be run around two turns.

Due to Win has won two stakes in her last two starts, and Baileys Affair and Took Out finished one-two last out in the $50,000 Golden Triangle at Delta.

The Treasure Chest kicks off a $50,000 guaranteed pick four. The all-stakes bet concludes with the eighth, which is the Jackpot.

Historic grade for Delta

The announcement Wednesday that Grade 3 status had been awarded to the Delta Jackpot for 2005 was historic. It is believed the race will be the first graded stakes for Thoroughbreds at Delta, which is 31 years old.

"We're extremely excited about it," said Jack Bernsmeier, general manager of Delta. "I think it makes it even more special that this is a small little track that started out to be a Quarter Horse track."

Boyd Gaming bought Delta, which has a six-furlong oval, in 2001 and installed slots in Feb. 2002. By the end of the year, the track introduced the Jackpot, with a purse of $500,000. The inaugural winner, Outta Here, went on to finish seventh in the Kentucky Derby. The purse for the Jackpot was doubled to $1 million in 2003, and it was won by Mr. Jester. Fire Slam, the runner-up, went on win the Grade 2 Riva Ridge at Belmont Park.

The Delta Jackpot is the richest race in the region, along with the $1 million Arkansas Derby, and it is also the only $1 million race held on a track that is less than one mile in circumference, said officials with Delta.

With the grade next year, there might be new starting preferences for the Jackpot. For the past two years, horses with the highest total earnings have been preferred if the race overfills - as it did this year when six horses were excluded. But that might not be the case for 2005. Chris Warren, director of racing for Delta, said the track is looking at tying preferences to earnings in graded races. He said the format would probably be to prefer graded winners, highest earners in graded races, then highest earners.

"We'll also probably have a pre-entry, so we'll know who is going to be in the race well in advance," he said.

Track timing still done by hand

Delta has made several upgrades to its facility since adding slots, but it still times its races the old-fashioned way. The track has not yet installed an electronic timing system, which means all of its Thoroughbred races are hand-timed. There is, however, an electronic timer in place for Quarter Horse races.

"We've talked about putting in a timing system," said Warren. "The reason we've delayed it is the cost involved, and the amount of groundwork with the racetrack to do it. We are contemplating putting in a new [one-mile] racetrack, and we've been advised that if you're going to do a whole new racetrack and spend all this money, it would be better off to wait and install it then."