Prime Engine, Ocho Ocho Ocho, and the $1 Million Delta Jackpot

It’s time to start talking Kentucky Derby…sort of. It’s still very early, but a few points are on the line for qualification with the running of the $1 Million Delta Jackpot this weekend. Before the current qualification system — when Derby entrance was based on graded stakes earnings — this race was particularly lucrative as the top finishers were virtually guaranteed a place in the starting gate at Churchill. But now it’s just another early prep for contenders to begin to separate themselves…and win a large purse while they are at it.

Normal Delta night players be aware — the racing starts during the afternoon on Saturday, and this race will go off around 5:15 ET.

The most interesting horse in the race is Prime Engine (#1, 8-1) who transfers into the Hollendorfer barn while remaining with the same ownership. Normally, I would discount any horse who started his career at Emerald Downs, but this horse is an exception. Yes, he did race twice at Emerald, but this has much more to do with the Seatlle-based ownership than a reflection on talent (note the 100K+ KEE auction purchase). And, while he was there, he dominated — receiving the highest maiden Beyer figure in the last 6 years.  He was originally entered in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) last week, but scratched out from that 100K race in favor of the $1 million here. I trust Hollendorfer’s ability to spot them well, and this is an encouraging sign. And while his route speed was significantly less than his brilliant debut sprint speed, he’s likely to improve in his second start, and importantly, his first in the Hollendorfer’s barn.

There are still questions for Prime Engine with the major step up in class and, as is the case with almost all entrants here, the unfamiliarity with the Delta surface. I’d like to see 4-1 or more to account for the uncertainty, but it’s hard to know how the public will bet this horse. Outside of Prime Engine, the other horse to catch the eye is Ocho Ocho Ocho (#10, 6-1) who rans light-out on an off-the-turf Juvenile Turf Sprint at Santa Anita. If he’s a better router than sprinter — not out of the question with Street Sense as his dad — he’s the best here. But that’s a big question coming in — it’s difficult to show that level of early brilliance and stretch-out with ease. He’s a win bet at 5-1.

Mr. Z (#3, 5-2) is the morning-line favorite after his 5th place finish in the Juvenile. But that’s hardly a ringing endorsement in that top-heavy race; he’s below the best in the country. That said, he might be fast enough to win here. If that happens, it will likely be because none of the new shooters are very good. In a 2YO stakes race — where improvements routinely happen — that makes me hesitant, especially on a horse that will likely be around 3-1 or lower. I’ll pass.

For players of multi-race exotics, the Jackpot is part of an $200K guaranteed All-Stakes P4, starting in race 4 at 3:44 ET. Good luck with all your weekend wagers!

Image: David, Copyright 2005.