By Bill Finley
The $1 million GIII Delta Jackpot S., which had been the signature race of the Delta Downs meet, is no more.
According to Delta Downs management, the local horsemen’s group, the Louisiana HBPA, was opposed to putting so much money into one race and one card at the expense of overnight purses, and when the two parties could not reach an agreement, it was decided to do away with the race.
“While it was our original intent to move forward with the Delta Downs Jackpot this year, we changed course after lengthy discussions with the state’s horsemen,” said Delta’s Vice President and General Manager Steve Kuypers. “They made it clear to us that they were vehemently opposed to proceeding with the Jackpot, as they felt the prize money could be put to better use in strengthening purses for the rest of our racing schedule. We have honored their request, and will not proceed with the Delta Downs Jackpot in 2018.”
Jackpot Day had also included the $400,000 GIII Delta Princess S. for 2-year-old fillies, the $250,000 Delta Mile and the $200,000 Treasure Chest S. Those races also will not be renewed.
The Jackpot card was canceled in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey hit the eastern part of Texas, which is where Delta draws the vast majority of its casino customers. Management and horsemen feared that there would be such a downturn in business due to the hurricane that the money would not be available for the Jackpot races. Those fears never materialized, as business at Delta’s casino remained steady. The money that would have gone to the Jackpot card was instead put into overnight races and by the end of Delta’s meet earlier this year, horses were racing for huge purses. On closing night in March, there was a $50,000 maiden special weight race and a $64,000 allowance race.
Trainer Ron Faucheux, a member of the HBPA Board, said horsemen at Delta and its sister track, Evangeline Downs, came to believe that the money would be better spent on races that normally involve local horsemen.
“Lousiana racing has taken a fall,” he said. “You’ve see it in the breeding industry and everywhere else over the last five, six years. The main thing is to help the locals as much as we possibly can.”
Delta and Evangeline are owned by Boyd Gaming and the vast majority of money for purses at both tracks comes from slots revenue. With Evangeline’s casino bringing in less money than Delta’s, the purses at Evangeline are considerably lower than they are at the cross-state track. However, the horses and trainers competing at the two tracks are primarily the same. Faucheux said the HBPA is seeking to have the Jackpot money put not into races at Delta but at Evangeline.
“We are hoping this move will allow a transfer of money from Delta to Evangeline,” he said. “The purses over the summer at Evangeline have gotten depleted over the last several years. We’re trying to create a situation where they can transfer money from one racetrack to the other. With the extra money now available, we believe the purses at Delta will be what they were at the beginning of last year’s meet [before several purse increases were enacted] and we can also boost purses substantially at Evangeline.”
The Delta Jackpot was one of several examples in racing of a small-time track creating a rich marquee race to draw attention to itself. The race for 2-year-old males was won by both horses who went on to national prominence and horses who were never heard from again. The most notable winners of the Jackpot were 2016 GI Preakness winner Exaggerator (Curlin), two-time GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents (Into Mischief) and Eclipse Award winning sprinter Big Drama (Montbrook). In what could turn out to be the final edition of the Jackpot, the race was won by Gunnevera (Dialed In). After his 2016 Jackpot victory, he went on to win the GII Xpressbet Fountain of Youth S. and finish second in the GI Travers S.