12/03/2009 12:00AM

Rule a prime player for Jackpot rewards

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Benoit & Associates
Gallant Gent, here winning a stakes at Fairplex, is a top contender in Friday's Jackpot.

The Grade 3, $750,000 Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs on Friday night is one of the richest and most unusual stakes anywhere for 2-year-olds. And the horse who conquers its unconventional variables, such as shipping a long distance to run under the lights on a six-furlong track, is rewarded with the kind of graded earnings that ensure a spot in the gate for the Kentucky Derby.

"The Jackpot's always an interesting race, one of ability and circumstances," said Steve Asmussen, who will start two-time stakes winner Grand Slam Andre.

Rule should go favored for his track-record performance in the local prep, the $175,000 Jean Lafitte. He will face seven others in the 1 1/16-mile Jackpot, which is one of six stakes worth $1.6 million on the richest card of the meet. The race serves as the final leg of a $100,000-guaranteed all-stakes pick four that runs from races 6 to 9.

Gallant Gent invades from Southern California and has the best chance to defeat Rule. He will be moving back to dirt, where he won a stakes on the five-furlong track at Fairplex Park. Following that race he was third to Lookin at Lucky in the Grade 1 Norfolk on Santa Anita's synthetic main track.

"He battled very courageously against a very top horse," said Craig Lewis, who trains Gallant Gent.

The gelding, who in his last start was seventh in the Grade 2 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, will break from the rail, under Kent Desormeaux.

"He has a lot of speed if we want to use it, and he's also very rateable," said Lewis. "He's a real super horse mentally."

Rule came to town last month from Churchill Downs and won the Jean Lafitte by nine lengths. He covered the mile in 1:37.40, for a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 97.

"Any time you have a horse run as big as he did in the previous race, you're always concerned that they avoid the bounce factor," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Rule. "But he's indicated in his training that he's every bit as good, or perhaps even improved, since the race."

John Velazquez will be aboard from post 3.

Uh Oh Bango earned the year's best Beyer Figure for a 2-year-old colt in September, when he won the $53,000 Prairie Meadows Freshman with a 102 Beyer. He then shipped to Churchill and was a close second in the Grade 3 Iroquois.

"I do think he was possibly a little short for that race," said his trainer, Kory Owens.