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Dec 01, 2006

Through The Binoculars


Friday's Delta Jackpot

On Wednesday evening at Delta Downs in downtown Vinton, La., jockey Tracy Hebert rode three winners on the 10-race card. For those scoring at home, the total mutuel handle for the 10-race card was $23,000.

Such are the vagaries of Racing 2006 that it is conceivable that more than $23,000 will be a wagered on a single horse Friday evening at the same venue..

That horse is Officer Rocket, a future star, in the $1 million Delta Jackpot, which will be far and away the richest race to be run on the planet this weekend.

And wouldn't you know?
Jockey Hebert has the call.

You might notice that Mark Guidry, a national semi-star,  has been riding Officer Rocket.  But Guidry is off the Rocket for the Delta Jackpot because of some delicate personal issues. If you want more information, I can be reached Friday evening in The Meadowlands press box glued to the Delta Downs simulcast, which will include three other six-figure stakes.

Hebert, incidentally, has calls in two of those three races - all live.

At first glance, it is hard to figure how a racetrack, which handled $23,000 total on Wednesday, can host a $1 million race two nights later. You need look no further than the power of slot machines in Racing 2006.

The Jackpot is a bettor's dream. The 10 horses in the Grade 3 race for 2-year-olds come from just about every serious racing jurisdiction in the land - California, New York, Kentucky, Maryland, Louisiana, and Canada.

Trainers Bob Baffert, Ken McPeek, Steve Asmussen, Mark Shuman and Bob Holthus shipped for the race, and jockeys Kent Desormeaux, Garrett Gomez, Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, Victor Espinoza and old buddy Joe Bravo are coming from far off places to compete for the $60,000 that goes to the winning whippersnapper.

The race is so big that Daily Racing Form leads with it in Friday's editions.

I get all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

Jockey Hebert on paper doesn't belong with those big-name jockeys mentioned above, but what difference does it make if he's on the best horse?

Personally, I believe that Officer Rocket is the best horse. And the fellow who makes the morning line believes he'll be the second choice behind the McPeek-trained Birdbirdistheword.

(I don't name them. I just write about them.)

I can tell you this -

When Officer Rocket and Birdwhat'shisface meant once before - in a maiden-special  in late July at Arlington Park - Officer Rocket won by five-plus lengths at odds-on, while Big Bird finished fifth, beaten a dozen lengths total, at 40-1.

Off that race alone, if you want to tell me that Big Bird should be favored over Officer Rocket in the Jackpot, I happily will listen to your opinion.

Now here's the dope.

Officer Rocket, a $190,000 colt from the first crop of Officer (by comparison, Big Bird cost $32,000), after breaking his maiden, won the Spectacular Bid Stakes by 13 lengths, and dead-heated Gotthelastlaugh for first money in the Arlington-Washington Futurity - both times at odds-on.

In his last start, Officer Rocket, sent away as the 5-2 second choice to potential superstar Tiz Wonderful in the Iroquois at Churchill  Downs, finished fifth to that colt, while conceding six pounds.

Trainer Holthus has been around since FDR's first term so he knew something had to be wrong with Officer Rocket. He was right.  A team of doctors discovered that the colt flipped his soft palate in the race, and underwent surgery. A myectomy if you must  know the name of the surgery.

With jockey McKee up, Officer Rocket worked three-quarters in 1:11 4/5 a week back at Churchill. I don't know whether you can actually call it a bullet work because it was the only work at the distance.

But no matter. Trainer Holthus, who is not easily impressed, was impressed.

Very much so.

This is what Holthus told Daily Racing Form and you can look it up:

"Officer Rocket is a very nice-going horse. He just skips over the ground."

Again personally I hope that Officer Rocket skips right to the winner's circle. Not because I get a piece of the $600,000 winner's share, or maybe 3-2 at the windows, but because the Rocket would complete a Big Three of 3-year-olds who will spend the winter at Oaklawn Park, my home away from home.

The other two are Hard Spun, whom we have discussed at length in this space, and the aforementioned Tiz Wonderful.

(Not to mention that Calvin Borel, the rider of Kentucky Derby future book favorite Street Sense, will be based at Oaklawn this winter).

Hey, it could be a Big Four.

Cole Norman, who has won the last seven trainers' titles at Oaklawn, has a 2-year-old in the Delta Jackpot named Go Poppa Fooze, who, after finishing third in his first start, has ripped off three straight wins - by an aggregate margin of 22 lengths, and all on the front end.

The Form, in its infinite wisdom, suggests that Go Poppa Fooze is the one to catch in the Jackpot. And I guess I'd have to agree. Jockey Theriot has the repeat call.

Meanwhile, Bob Baffert is so turned on by the million-dollar purse that he is importing jockeys Gomez and Espinoza from the left coast to ride Pirates Deputy and Malt Magic, respectively.

In his last start, Pirates Deputy closed a ton for second in the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita to Freesgood, who is also in the Jackpot, with Desormeaux aboard.

You might remember Malt Magic. He had a horrible trip from post 13 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, and was beaten from there to St. Louis. He has the two-hole for the Jackpot, and should have a better trip with the return to Espinoza.

Hey, this field is so strong that Sapling Stakes winner Xchanger will be 30-1 from the one-hole. Joe Bravo is making the trip from south Florida for the mount, and you have to understand that Jersey Joe is passing up South Beach on a Friday evening to make the trip.

Back to Hebert for a minute.

The local jock has calls on Gal Wonder in the $300,000 Delta Princess, and No Sleep, who will be a short price in the $100,000 Treasure Chest.

I would think that a riding triple for Hebert on Friday evening would be considerably more lucrative than his riding triple on Wednesday evening.


Shifting gears, here's my favorite Joe Theisman story of the week -

Green Bay was first and goal from the Seattle six, causing Joe to say: "Green Bay needs a touchdown here. They can't settle for three."

Moments later, on third down from the eight, Green Bay ran the ball up the middle for no gain, causing Joe to say: "That was the right move. They need to take the sure three."

Say it aint so Joe.

For what it's worth, the FG was blocked.

In case you missed it, my beloved AFC was 4-0 straight-up against the NFC last week, and likely will go 4-zip again this weekend.

The AFC already is a four-point favorite for the Super Bowl, and a five-point favorite for the Pro Bowl.

And, in case you missed it, Ohio State is -5 against USC.

I find it interesting that Ohio State QB Smith, the can't-miss Heisman winner, is projected as no better than a late first-round or early second-round pick in the NFL draft.

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