Commentary

A Jackpot for Doug?

Updated: November 16, 2011, 12:21 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Racing against much tougher horses than he's ever met before, Dougs Buddy could easily be an also-ran in Saturday's $1 million Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs. Then again, he's undefeated, and maybe there's more to this horse from the hinterlands than meets the eye. We'll know Saturday, when Dougs Buddy might just become one of the most unlikely Kentucky Derby candidates ever.

The Delta Jackpot has soared in popularity in recent years among horsemen. The $1 million purse has a lot to do with it, but its greatest attribute is that it gives the winner a guaranteed spot in the following year's Kentucky Derby field. That's why Bob Baffert will be there Saturday with Grade 1 winner Drill, Belmont-winning trainer Kelly Breen is coming to town with My Adonis and Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is coming in with Longview Drive.

It's no different with Dougs Buddy, whose connections are dreaming of things far bigger and better than the Canadian Juvenile at little Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta.

It's no different with Dougs Buddy, whose connections are dreaming of things far bigger and better than the Canadian Juvenile at little Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta.

Edmonton produces a lot of things, oil, gas and hockey players among them. But it's hardly the place where you'd expect a Delta Jackpot winner or Kentucky Derby starter to come from.

His story begins in a less unusual place. By Badge of Silver, Dougs Buddy was born in Kentucky, where he sold for $7,500 at the 2010 Keeneland September sale to owner Doug Blair.

The colt began his racing career in July, winning a maiden race by seven lengths under jockey Rico Walcott. From there it was a win in the Edmonton Juvenile, the Birdcatcher and the Canadian Juvenile. Afterward Blair and Joan Petrowski, the leading trainer at Northlands, were mulling a start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but came to the conclusion that the Delta Downs race was a better fit.

"He'll like this track," Petrowski said. "He's raced on a five-furlong track [at Northlands] and takes the turns really well. We picked this race because of the six-furlong oval track. The owner always dreamt about going to the Breeders' Cup. But we got sidetracked because of this race."

So they made the 2,341-mile journey from Edmonton to Vinton, Louisiana to tangle with the heavyweights. They, no doubt, had to pack a good road map. Petrowski, who said she has been training for 40 years, has never started a horse in the U.S. She's had 327 starters this year, all 327 of them at Northlands. Then there's jockey Rico Walcott. He's back riding in his native Barbados and won't be able to make it to Delta Downs on Saturday. He said he can't get out of his riding commitments at a place called Garrison Savannah, not exactly a typical problem for a jockey eyeing the Kentucky Derby. Rex Stokes III will take over for Walcott.

Then there's the question of what to do with Dougs Buddy after the race. Petrowksi said most of her horses stay in Alberta over the winter. Never mind that the average low temperature in Edmonton in January is 1 degree Fahrenheit.

"We keep a lot up here, turn them out in the snow and a lot winter quite well," Petrowski said.

A Derby contender training in Alberta, Canada in February? Blair has wisely decided to take the horse to California after the Delta race.

"Doug just feels the sun is nicer for people so must be for horses too," Petrowski said.

Thanks in large part to Baffert's popularity with bettors, Drill might be the favorite in the Jackpot. But they'll have to figure out if they should give him a pass for his poor effort in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he was tenth, beaten 18 lengths. Drill is the first Grade 1 winner to run in Delta's signature race.

"I just worked him this morning," Baffert told the Daily Racing Form Monday. "He worked well. It looks like he didn't really run in the Breeders' Cup. I wanted to see his energy level, and it looks good. "

My Adonis could be the second choice. The Delta Downs track, with its tight turns and short stretch, is a tricky one and a lot of shippers don't handle it. But the Kelly Breen-trainee showed no problems when winning the prep for this race, Delta's Jean Laffitte.

Baffert's won all over the country. Breen is one of the best young trainers in the East and has a Belmont win under his belt. Hollendorfer is one of only four trainers in history to win 5,000 or more races. Jackpot starter Seven Lively Sins is trained by Al Stall Jr., who won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic with Blame.

Then there's Joan Petrowski with her four-legged version of Rocky.

The horse isn't supposed to have any chance, at least on paper. But you never know.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com