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Gazzolo: Delta yet to hit jackpot with locals

Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 12:47 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Big names in sports don’t often come around these parts.

Big events either for that matter.

When they do, sometimes we seem to miss them completely, or treat them like horseplay.

For sure it happens at least once a year, just around this time.

Before the turkey meets the stuffing, some big names in horse racing come to town. Well, at least they go to Vinton, which is just on the outskirts of town.

They will head to Delta Downs for its annual Jackpot Day, one in which the horse racing world sets at least some of its focus on Vinton. That might come as a bit of a surprise to many in the area who pay little attention to Delta Downs, Vinton or speedy horses.

The race track and casino is nationally known but often locally overlooked.

In this football-crazed part of the country, few things matter in the fall than what happens on the gridiron. Here, the pigskin far outweighs horsehide.

Often that leaves us missing out on a big part of the action and excitement.

While LSU and McNeese State play their final home games of the year on Saturday, the chase for next spring’s Kentucky Derby will race right through our own backyard. Locals will hardly give it the time of day, either not to care about it at all or take the fact we have a world-class racing facility close by for granted.

The annual Jackpot Day arrives with all the local excitement of a spring shower. Sure you will hear about it, maybe even notice it a little, but it’s hardly anything to get all worked up about.

At least that’s the way the locals will view it. To others, this is a big event.

Money will come flowing in from all over, especially Texas, as Delta Downs plays host to a day of big-time horse racing.

It is worthy of a second look if not more.

Highlight of the afternoon is the Delta Jackpot, which features promising 2-year-olds whose owners, trainers and jockeys have their sights set on a much bigger prize down the road.

While the million-dollar purse for the Grade III race gets a lot of attention — it is the second-richest race for 2-year-olds in North America, behind only the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile — all parties on hand have higher aspirations.

For them, this is one of the major stepping stones to next year’s Kentucky Derby and thus the dream of the Triple Crown. If you don’t think so, understand last year’s Derby-winning jockey, Mario Gutierrez, and trainer, Doug O’Neill, will team up Saturday again and run Know More in Vinton.

And while the Jackpot has yet to produce a Derby champion, several winners from Delta Downs have gone on to not only race at Churchill Downs but also had long and productive careers.

Clearly, the Kentucky Derby is the major leagues of horse racing, but all those thoroughbreds that have raced their way to the legendary event have had to spend their time in the minors, working their way up.

For them Vinton is somewhere around Double-A.

Several horses have gone on to run well in Kentucky.

This year marks the 10th running of the Jackpot, which dates to 2002.

While that might not add up, the event’s history mirrors the area it calls home.

Delta Downs was damaged during Hurricane Rita, causing the entire race season, including the Jackpot, to be lost. Some wondered, like the area, if racing would ever return. It has and become bigger and better than ever.

It adds up to a little racing, a few bets, maybe you might even see a future Derby champ along the way.

And if one of those bets work out, you could end up making a little hay.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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