By John Piesen
Watching the Saints win (but not cover) on Thursday evening reminded me that the state of Louisiana will be where the action is Saturday.
On one hand, in the state capital of Baton Rouge, we have LSU playing Johnny Football in the biggest game on the Saturday national college football docket, and 200 miles to the west, in the small town of Vinton, La., the national racing spotlight will be on Delta Downs for an all-star racing card featuring the $1 million Delta Jackpot.
Other than the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Jackpot, fueled by casino cash, is the richest race on the calendar for 2-year-olds.
Delta Downs races mostly in the evening, but this year was moved to the afternoon to take advantage of an otherwise slow national simulcasting day. Don't know that by doing so, management puts the Jackpot card in direct competition with the LSU-A&M game, but hey... that's life in Huey Long country.
The Jackpot has yet to produce a Derby winner, and chances are it won't happen this time, but three DJ horses -- Goldencents, Itsmyluckyday and Mylute -- made it to the Derby last year..
In doing some research for my Fair Grounds cover piece in the December issue of American Turf Monthly, trainer Tom Amoss named three horses to watch this winter, and one of the three was Rise Up, who just happens to be a major player in the field of 10 in the Jackpot.
Rise Up, a son of the late Rockport Harbor, one of my all-time favorites, enters the Jackpot with three wins and a second in five starts, and is fresh from a six-length blowout in the Jean Lafitte Futurity, the major local prep for the race.
You would think that post 10 going long over the tightly-turned Delta strip would put Rise Up at a disadvantage. But the majority of the Jackpot winners have broken from outside posts, and the long run to the first turn actually gives jockey Gerald Melancon a tactical advantage.
Rise Up may be one that jockey Rosie Napravnik let get away, Rosie won a 100K race at Mountaineer on Rise Up, but had other business the day of the Jean Lafitte, and Melancon lucked into the mount.
Personally, I'm going to use Rise Up on top in hope that he'll shake loose on the lead with Melancon, who knows every square inch of the Delta strip, and use Casiguapo and Rum Point under him.
This is known as a bonus selection in the trade. My daily Aqueduct selections will be up and running Saturday online at www.johnpiesen.com, and on the John Piesen Hot Line at (1-888-612-2283).
Although the name sounds like it belongs on the menu of a Tex-Mex place, Casiguapo is a stone-cold runner. He brought a meager $4,700 as a yearling, and here he is a year later in a $1 million race. Sometimes you got to love this game.
Calder horses traditionally run well at Delta (something about a similar surface), and wouldn't you know? Casiguapo is the only Calder horse in the Jackpot.
For a guy who has won a mere five races this year, trainer Mario Morales obviously is shooting high with Casiguapo. The colt made his first start in a 75K, missed the break, and closed like a thief in the night for third.
Off that race, the chestnut broke his maiden by 11 lengths at 2-5, and then it was off to Saratoga for the Hopeful. You gotta like these people. Luis Saez was available a week after winning the Travers, and guided him to a second-place finish behind the rather formidable D. Wayne Lukas colt Strong Mandate.
Morales kept Casiguapo in New York for the Champagne at Belmont only to draw the one-hole, otherwise known as "Death Valley". Casiguapo still managed to get fourth behind Havana and Honor Code, who just happens to be the winter book favorite for the Derby.
Then it was back to Calder where Casi worked five-eighths in a bullet 1:00 last Saturday, and the long van trip to Delta Downs. And jockey Saez is giving up some live mounts at Aqueduct to make even a longer trip -- a flight to Houston, and a two-hour drive to Vinton.
As for Rum Point, we are not talking rags-to-riches here. The 150K son of Malibu Moon is owned by Paul Reddam, trained by Doug O'Neill, and ridden by Mario Guiterez -- the same connections that gave us Derby/Preakness winner I'll Have Another a couple years back.
Like Casiguapo. Rum Point has been keeping Grade One company-- a fourth in the Del Mar Futurity, a third in the Kentucky Breeders' Futurity, and a 12th in the BC Juvenile, a race in which he bobbled at the break and lost all chance.
As for Rosie, she's got a shot with a lightly-raced Canadian colt named Big Bazinga for one of my favorite owners: the Derby Dreamers Racing Stable.
Then there is the always-dangerous McPeek-Albarado combo. Kenny put over Rankhasprivileges at $33 in his Keeneland debut, and was sufficiently impress to ship to Delta for this shot at a million.
Albarado is riding high after beating the rap on a domestic violence charge in Kentucky, and no doubt will have a big meet at Fair Grounds.
The Jackpot, still a Grade Three despite the seven-figure purse, goes as race seven at 5:15 Eastern -- or just as they're starting the second half at Baton Rouge.
The Jackpot caps a 200K guaranteed all-stakes pick four, so let's take some shots in the earlier races:
Seven of the nine 3-year-olds in the 75K Sam's Town exit wins in various time zones, foremost of them One King's Man, Tallahatchie Lake and Black Bear.
Uncaptured is the class of the 150K Delta Mile, Nates Mineshaft is the speed, and Donoharm won the Sams Town over the track last year at 6-5.
Super Steve Asmussen has a bomber here in Troilus, who is no relation to the stakes-winner of the same name in the '60s.
Miss Behaviour and Bahnah, both graded stakes-winners in New York, square off in the 500K Delta Princess, and oddly both with new riders.
Rosie replaces Corey Lanerie on Bahnah; Sheldon Russell replaces Garry Cruise on Miss Behavior.
Shades of Dr. Fager. Bahnah finished first by four at 1-10 last out in a 150K stake only to be disqualified. Trainer Mark Casse has a dangerous uncoupled entry: Tepin in the one-hole, Appreciating from the outside seven.
PIESEN OWNS “BIG A”
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Changing gears, Wednesday was an interesting racing day in two of our larger cities.
At Aqueduct, the New York Daily News consensus box was on the verge of going 0-for-54...until one guy nailed the $4 winner in the finale. Been there, done it.
And just as Alex Rodriguez was spilling his guts to Mike Francesa on national TV, the horses were taking the track for the fourth at Arlington Park -- and would you believe the six-horse was named Time For Alex!
Talk about a hunch. Anyhow, Time For Alex closed for second at 7-1.
And if you think Honor Code will win the Derby, you can get 12-1 in Vegas. But you better move fast. He runs next Saturday in the Remsen.
Thanks for tuning in, have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, go Steelers (why not?), and see you back here next Friday.
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