When I was the public relations director at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., our biggest day of the year centered on the Jim Beam Stakes.
Turfway was admittedly a midlevel track. But on Jim Beam day, we rolled out the red carpet to fans and horsemen alike and celebrated a festival of horse racing each spring.
There’s something to be said about this type of “Avis” mentality. The Avis rental car company used an advertising slogan “We try harder” because it was “No. 2” behind Hertz.
Racetracks that are “No. 2” and don’t have the status or resources of the New York Racing Association, Churchill Downs or Keeneland and Del Mar or Santa Anita Park can still bulk up and host an outstanding day of horse racing.
This is the case with Delta Downs in Vinton, La., on Saturday, when it will host the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot for 2-year-olds, plus seven other stakes. It is an outstanding betting card.
Before the Kentucky Derby point system, the Jackpot had an even bigger influence because the top finishers earned graded money that went a long way toward making the 20-horse Derby field.
Now it’s points, and while 2-year-old stakes don’t carry as much clout as before, that doesn’t mean a race such as the Jackpot can’t showcase a future star or two.
The best horse to exit the Jackpot is arguably Goldencents (2012), who has gone on to win the past two Breeders’ Cup Mile events. From scanning the Daily Racing Form past performances of this year’s field, there are some colts who have that kind of potential.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has the morning-line favorite in Mr. Z (5-2) in the Jackpot and Take Charge Brandi (2-1) in the Delta Downs Princess.
Mr. Z ran fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Texas Red and Carpe Diem. He has faced the toughest tests by far as he exits five graded stakes races in a row.
Much support will go to Conquest Tsunami (4-1), who has won five of six starts for trainer Mark Casse. He smoked a decent group last out in the Street Sense at Churchill.
The two horses I like to upset are shipping in from the West Coast. Ocho Ocho Ocho (6-1) and Prime Engine (8-1) are undefeated in two career starts and have high ceilings.
Ocho Ocho Ocho is by Street Sense, who won the 2007 Kentucky Derby, so he should improve with more distance for trainer Jim Cassidy. Cassidy, 69, would love to follow in the footsteps of venerable California trainers such as Charlie Whittingham and Art Sherman, who won the Derby late in their careers.
Prime Engine was privately purchased after two sparkling wins at Emerald Downs. Jerry Hollendorfer will train, thus there are some similarities between this colt and Shared Belief.
In the Jackpot, Prime Engine drew the rail and should see a nice, ground-saving trip.
Delta Downs is owned by Nevada-based Boyd Gaming. Two of the undercard stakes are named for local casinos, The Orleans and Sam’s Town.
■ ORLEANS QUALIFIER — There will be another one-day Horseplayer World Series qualifier Nov. 28 at The Orleans. The number of free HWS entries awarded will depend on the number of entries.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.