Delta Downs Jackpot quickly grows in stature

When some state governments began granting casino licenses to racetracks years ago, it stopped the demise — and potential closure — of many tracks.

These downtrodden tracks quickly became cash cows, mostly from their casino handle. The powers-that-be then started shifting the emphasis from horse racing to their more profitable slot and table games.

Now the inevitable has occurred. State governments need more money, and horse racing has become an easy target. The industry was receiving these big casino profits, now relabeled a subsidy, and doing little to improve the racing product other than raise purses.

It’s gotten to the point that some track operators would prefer to do away with horse racing and keep just the casino side going.

That’s why when a racino track tries something, anything, to promote horse racing, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Two current examples come to mind.

Penn National and Belmont Park teamed up for seven Thursdays this fall on a low 15 percent takeout pick 4, two races from each track. Dan Silver, director of racing operations for Penn, told the Daily Racing Form that the Penn overall handle for the seven Thursdays went up 31.5 percent.

The small sample showed that unique ways of showcasing a product can grow more interest.

The other example is happening Saturday in Vinton, La., at Delta Downs, which is owned by Boyd Gaming. The $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot highlights eight stakes totaling $2.25 million in purses. Two of the stakes are named for Las Vegas casinos, The Orleans and Sam’s Town.

The Jackpot for 2-year-olds quickly has become a key race for potential stars. The 2008 winner, Big Drama, won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint and was Eclipse Award champion sprinter that year.

Last year’s winner, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Mile. He tentatively is set to run next in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 30.

This year’s edition has 10 evenly matched starters headed by Coastline (5-2) from trainer Mark Casse. The son of Speightstown will be going around two turns for the first time. He’s won two of three starts, including the Street Sense last out at Churchill Downs.

Other top contenders include Rise Up (3-1), who won the local prep, the Jean Lafitte, last time for Tom Amoss. Casiguapo (4-1) will garner a lot of support shipping in from Calder. This colt ran well in graded stakes in the Hopeful and Champagne in New York.

Rum Point (5-1) is from trainer Doug O’Neill, who also trains Goldencents. Rum Point ran next to last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but has plenty of Southern California class.

The $500,000 Delta Princess is on the Jackpot undercard. Miss Behaviour (2-1) and Bahnah (3-1) are favored. But I prefer Concave (7-2), trained by O’Neill, who lost all chance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last out when Secret Compass broke down directly in front of her.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick