Saratoga Special winner Gunnevera seeks rebound in Delta Jackpot

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

November 14th, 2016

It had already yielded a future champion sprinter in Big Drama and a two-time Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner in Goldencents, but the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) scaled new heights a year ago when it was claimed by Exaggerator, who went on to become the race's first classic winner by taking the Preakness (G1) in May.

Of course, the ultimate goal for the 10 colts in Saturday's renewal of the 1 1/16-mile event is the Kentucky Derby (G1), and the top four finishers will get 10-4-2-1 points, respectively, toward eligibility for next May's Run for the Roses as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

Among the horses to watch in this competitive edition is Gunnevera, who, like Exaggerator, registered his first stakes triumph in the Saratoga Special (G2). Out of action nearly two months following that 9-1 upset, Gunnevera reappeared in the Breeders' Futurity (G1). Won stylishly by eventual Breeders' Cup hero and champion Classic Empire, Gunnevera raced near the back before rallying mildly for fifth.

The trainer-jockey combo responsible for Classic Empire, Mark Casse and Julien Leparoux, team up with Our Stormin Norman for the Jackpot. Second to Jackpot rival Tip Tap Tapizar in their mutual debut in June, Our Stormin Norman then dropped three straight on grass before breaking his maiden in a dirt sprint at Keeneland while donning blinkers for the first time.

Tip Tap Tapizar, elevated to second in the Saratoga Special but 15 lengths in back of Gunnevera, rebounded to take the $103,000 Sapling at Monmouth Park over a mile, and most recently proved second best in the local prep, the $200,000 Jean Lafitte, behind Line Judge. The latter was recording his third straight success in the one-mile test after maiden and overnight stakes victories at Canterbury.

A race loaded with pace, the Jackpot has attracted other speed to keep Line Judge and Our Stormin Norman company. Among these are Dangerfield, recent winner of the $55,000 Oak Tree Juvenile at Pleasanton; Hot Sean, a Santa Anita allowance winner for Bob Baffert; and Balandeen, second in the $83,000 Street Sense at Churchill last out.

The field is rounded out by dual New York-bred stakes winner Pat On the Back; the Grade 2-placed Casse trainee Thirstforlife; and J Boys Echo, a dominating Keeneland graduate last out for Dale Romans.

(Adam Coglianese Photography)