12/01/2015 11:42AM

Road to the Derby: Delta Downs Jackpot

Coady Photography
Exaggerator holds off Sunny Ridge to win the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot on Nov. 21.

Grade 3, $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot; 1 1/16 miles; Delta Downs; Nov. 21, 2015
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Exaggerator (sire: Curlin)
Trainer: Keith Desormeaux
Jockey: Kent Desormeaux
Owner: Big Chief Racing
Beyer Speed Figure: 92

The well-traveled EXAGGERATOR visited his fifth different racetrack in his fourth different state for his sixth lifetime start, and gutted out a game victory over a determined SUNNY RIDGE to win the second-richest 2-year-old race of the year. Exaggerator had finished fourth in the richest 2-year-old race, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, just three weeks earlier.

Exaggerator got the best Beyer Figure of his career in this race, and again showed he can handle an off track, as he had finishing second in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland two starts prior.

This might not have been the strongest field Exaggerator has faced, but he’s proven he can ship and handle all surfaces, which gives the Brothers Desormeaux plenty of options as to where to campaign Exaggerator next spring. Plus, being by Curlin, Exaggerator only figures to improve with age.

In this race, Exaggerator used his outside draw to get a clean run through the long homestretch first time by the wire, and by the time the horses swung into the first turn he had wrested the lead from IRON DOME. Exaggerator turned back a bid from WHITMORE midway down the backstretch, then was engaged by Sunny Ridge as they swung into the far turn. Those two raced together into the lane, at which point Exaggerator got a neck in front, a margin he maintained to the wire.

Sunny Ridge, who was second, was floated out by MEMORIES OF WINTER through the homestretch the first time, and wound up in the second flight of horses, about three to four paths wide, entering the first turn. He advanced down the backstretch outside Exaggerator and Whitmore, and poked his head in front briefly on the final turn after Whitmore dropped away. He had every opportunity to get past Exaggerator through the lane but couldn’t get there, though he was well clear of everyone else in the best race of his career.

HARLAN PUNCH, who finished third, was rated during the early going and secured a clear spot, eighth of 10, while on the rail into the first turn. He advanced while in the middle of the track down the backstretch and made a three-wide bid chasing Exaggerator and Sunny Ridge on the final turn, but that extended run finally got to him in the lane and he could not keep up with the top two through the final furlong.

FOUND MONEY, who was fourth, was exiting sprints in California in which he was on or near the lead, yet, curiously, he was rated in this race. He had a chance through the lane the first time to secure the position eventually taken by Exaggerator, but was kept under restraint and wound up seventh into the first turn while attempting to drop over and save some ground. He lost position down the backstretch and was in front of just two horses with three furlongs to go, came under an aggressive ride on the final turn, was fanned about five paths wide into the lane, then outfinished Whitmore and FOREVAMO in a three-way battle for fourth.

Whitmore, who was fifth, broke a half-step slowly and then was deftly guided between rivals through the lane the first time to end up in a stalking position around the first turn. He was forced to hold his position and go after Exaggerator down the backstretch when Sunny Ridge advanced. He then raced between those two horses until early on the final turn, began to retreat, but didn’t completely chuck it and just missed fourth. This was a big ask off his lone prior start, a six-furlong maiden win at Churchill Downs on a fast track. It will be worth seeing how he progresses this winter at Oaklawn if given a chance to develop.

Forevamo, who was sixth, was in tight along the rail heading into the first turn and had to check, got through inside Iron Dome down the backstretch, followed Exaggerator to the final turn, came under an aggressive ride with a quarter-mile remaining, could not keep up with the leaders and took the worst of a three-way battle for fourth.

TEXAS JAMBALAYA, who was seventh, broke well but then was wrestled back through the lane the first time and had only one horse beat heading into the first turn. He made a bold mid-race move down the backstretch to advance to sixth, but was all done with three-sixteenths of a mile to go.

Memories of Winter, who finished eighth, drifted out through the initial furlong of the race to herd several rivals, was outfooted into the first turn and wound up between rivals while racing in fifth, was asked urgently with five-sixteenths of a mile to run, but retreated.

COWBOY CLASSIC, who was ninth, was overmatched and was far back throughout.

Iron Dome, who finished last of 10, showed good speed through the lane first time by to take the early lead, was headed by Exaggerator after three furlongs, began to drop back midway down the backstretch, and readily faded.