12/02/2008 12:00AM

Terrain looks for Derby cred

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Barbara D. Livingston
Terrain's connections are not viewing the Jackpot as a setup for a future campaign, but rather a here-and-now proposition for the horse.

Terrain has been dancing all around the big one, from finishing a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to playing runner-up in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland in his Grade 1 debut Oct. 4. But to strengthen his credentials heading into his 3-year-old season, he needs a breakthrough win and his opportunity comes Friday night in the Grade 3, $750,000 Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs.

"I would love to see it for a lot of different reasons," said Al Stall Jr., who trains Terrain.

Terrain is one of 10 horses in the Jackpot, a 1 1/16-mile race that drew stakes winners West Side Bernie, Big Drama, Kick On, and Trinity Magic when entries were taken Tuesday. They are the biggest threats to Terrain in a stakes that offers a first-place check of $450,000 and thus an assured spot in the starting gate if the Kentucky Derby is oversubscribed next May.

But Terrain's connections are not viewing the Jackpot as a setup for a future campaign. It is a here-and-now proposition for the horse, who already has come a long way since winning his career debut for a $50,000 claiming price at Churchill Downs.

"He's a gelding, so you tend to have a different thought process going into your 3-year-old year," Stall said. "If you're trying to plan for a Derby run because of a stallion career, you think a little bit different as opposed to a little gelding, where you're just trying to knock out some good pots.

"But he's always done a notch better than we ever thought he was going to do. And hopefully that carries over this weekend, and then maybe after this race we might say, 'Wow, let's point for the Risen Star now.'"

Adele Dilschneider, who bred and owns Terrain, had realistic goals for the son of Sky Mesa from the outset. She was hoping for "just a nice, solid horse."

But "he just keeps going," she said. "Kind of like the Energizer bunny, he keeps going and going and going."

Terrain has scaled his way up the class ladder. He was a neck winner of a 5 1/2-furlong maiden claiming race July 3, placed at that level in part because of his size. Terrain is not a big horse, standing about 15.3 hands tall and weighing 950 pounds.

"He came over with a group of horses from the training center, and a lot of them were bigger and stronger and worked better than he did," Stall said. "So it made sense, being a gelding, and with so-so type works.

"On the other hand, when he ran in 1:04 and 1 - they split the race and he ran almost two seconds faster than the other division - I was like, 'We might have a game player here.'"

Terrain was moved into stakes company for his second start, and he delivered with a clear win in the $85,000 Mountaineer Juvenile on Aug. 2. One race later, he finished third in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity, but was placed first following a double disqualification. Stall said Terrain was "impeded" and "body-slammed" in two separate incidents in the stretch run at Arlington on Sept. 13.

"It was all good seasoning for him," he said.

Terrain then headed to the Breeders' Futurity and closed from well back to finish second in what was his two-turn debut. The performance earned him a shot in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and he was beaten just 2 1/4 lengths by wire-to-wire winner Midshipman.

"He was down inside and kind of was intimidated a little bit," said Jamie Theriot, the regular rider of Terrain. "Then he got a spot in the far turn and made a big effort, closing well. He was really the only thing running on the end.

"The Delta Jackpot will be his first time with blinkers, and I think truly he needs them, just to keep him a little focused more in the race early on. I think the blinkers will move us up the couple of lengths we need to get there."

Stall said he plans to outfit Terrain with a three-quarter cup set of blinkers with peepholes.

A win in the Jackpot would cap career years for Stall and Theriot, both Louisiana natives. Stall's stable has earned an annual-best $2.5 million so far in 2008, boosted by My Pal Charlie's win in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs in September.

Theriot, meanwhile, has 167 wins and $6.6 million in purse earnings through Monday.

As for Dilschneider, she is enjoying each step of the way with Terrain. She has been a partner in horses with Claiborne Farm since the 1990s, among the best of whom were Arch, winner of the 1998 Super Derby, and Mighty, who took the 2000 Louisiana Derby. Her interest in the sport was piqued in 1974, when Cannonade, a horse her grandfather, John M. Olin, bred and owned, won the Kentucky Derby.

"That kind of got me rolling," she said. "And when the time in my life was right to begin [a stable], I did."

Dilschneider said Minery, the late dam of Terrain, was one of the first horses she bought as a yearling. Today, her operation includes 25 broodmares in partnership with Claiborne, 15 horses in training that she either owns alone or in partnership with Claiborne, and an additional group of yearlings being prepared for the track.

Right now, however, the whole focus is on Terrain's bid for the Jackpot.