12/04/2007 12:00AM

Unbeaten colt tries to hit $1M Jackpot

EmailCave's Valley comes into Friday night's Grade 3, $1 million Delta Jackpot with 3 wins in 3 starts and the connections to take him as far as his talent will carry him. Already a multiple stakes winner, he is owned by Harry Meyerhoff and his son, Tom, who raced 1980 Horse of the Year Spectacular Bid.

His trainer is Michael Trombetta, a leading Maryland-based horseman who in 2006 had the Kentucky Derby favorite in Sweetnorthernsaint. And the regular jockey for Cave's Valley is Ramon Dominguez, the nation's second-leading rider in wins heading into the final month of 2007.

Trombetta and the Meyerhoffs, a prominent homebuilding family who have spent leisure time in the Caves Valley area north of Baltimore, have been shopping for a spot to step Cave's Valley up in class since he stormed to a 5 3/4-length win in the $101,000 Dover at Delaware Park on Oct.o20. They had considered the Grade 2 Remsen and the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, but have opted for the Jackpot, a 1 1/16-mile race run over Delta's six-furlong track in Vinton, La.

"We figured this guy's got speed, he's won at the distance, and the money's very good, so we're going to take a trip," said Trombetta, 41. "We just think he deserves a chance."

Cave's Valley was the lone 2-year-old in an eight-horse string Trombetta brought this past summer to Saratoga, and the colt won his career debut at the track by 7 1/2 lengths. He set the pace in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race on Aug. 17, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 91.

"He showed speed I didn't know he had," said Trombetta. "I mean, he went in 21.60 [seconds] out of the one-hole, and I was very shocked because I just never asked him, nor got to see that, in the mornings. He worked well and forwardly, but not like a horse that was going to come out of there running like that."

A month later, Cave's Valley made his two-turn debut and was a nose winner of the $58,000 Whirling Ash at Delaware.

"He had just about everything go wrong that can go wrong in a small field," said Tom Meyerhoff, 54. "The ground broke from under him, so he didn't break well. And [with] very slow fractions, he kind of got boxed in and then got knocked into the rail but still did not give up. He had every reason to quit and he hung on to win."

Cave's Valley advanced to the Dover, which he captured with a Beyer of 92. Among those he defeated in the 1 1/16-mile race was Atoned, who in his next start finished a troubled second in the Remsen, beaten a neck by Court Vision.

Tom and Harry Meyerhoff, the 78-year-old brother of Robert E. Meyerhoff, who won the Breeders' Cup Classic in 1994 with Concern, purchased Cave's Valley at auction for $130,000. He is by Stephen Got Even, whose offspring include Stevie Wonderboy, winner of the BC Juvenile in 2006. Kamaal, a daughter of Irgun who placed in a one-mile stakes at 2, is the dam of Cave's Valley.

"We bought him, like most of our horses, at the yearling sale at Keeneland," said Tom Meyerhoff. "This would have been in 2006, and we ended up buying 12 that year. He was the highest. He was actually the first time in all the years we've been going that we ever went to six figures for a horse.

"We really liked the looks of him, and we knew that it was going to happen eventually that we cross that threshold. It just happened to be him. It was the last year we were there with Bud Delp, so Bud actually approved this horse for us. He thought he was a nice-looking individual, that he was correct and he had good size. There was nothing not to like."

Delp trained Spectacular Bid, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in 1979 who went on to collect five more Grade 1 wins at 4, including the Woodward in a walkover to close out his career in September 1980. Also for the Meyerhoffs, the Hall of Fame horseman trained Dispersal, the 1990 Woodward winner who earned $1.5 million. Delp died in December 2006, a few months before the promising Cave's Valley was ready to join him at Laurel.

"He's probably the best horse we've had since Dispersal," Meyerhoff said of Cave's Valley. "He's certainly done everything right so far."

"He's very professional," said Trombetta. "He goes out there and will go as slow as you ask him to go or he will go as fast as you ask him to go. And that is not very common. Horses at his age, the biggest problem is getting them to do what you want. This is one of those individuals that's more than glad to do anything you ask him."

Trombetta has trained for the Meyerhoffs since January 2007. The owners "did a lot of homework" to select a new trainer following Delp's death, and said they are pleased with Trombetta. In addition to Cave's Valley, the Meyerhoffs have another 2-year-old stakes winner with the trainer, High Appeal. But the best of their crop is Cave's Valley, said Tom Meyerhoff.

"We don't want to jump ahead of this week, but assuming everything goes well, we certainly hope that he's going to be a [Kentucky] Derby contender," he said. "It's definitely what we have in the back of our minds. But in front of our minds is this race."

And hitting the Jackpot.