It's a long ways down the road but Sabercat all but locked up a spot in next year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) with an emphatic win in the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) for 2-year-olds Nov. 19 in Vinton, La (VIDEO).
Making his graded stakes debut at odds of 8-1, Sabercat pounced on the leaders leaving the final bend and pulled away to a four-length victory under Gerard Melancon. Sabercat, a Kentucky-bred son of Bluegrass Cat , won his third consecutive race since breaking his maiden in his fourth start Sept. 5 at Monmouth Park.
This was considered the most talented field in the nine runnings of the Jackpot, with horses shipping to southwest Louisiana from California, New Jersey, Kentucky, Florida, and Canada. Sabercat banked $600,000 for the victory, which would be more than enough graded earnings to put him in the Derby starting gate next May.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, who recorded his 6,000th lifetime victory a day earlier, Sabercat is owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds. The $120,000 Keeneland yearling served notice in his most previous start, a six-length triumph in the Garden State Stakes at Monmouth Oct. 2.
"It took a few starts for him to come around," owner Ron Winchell told TVG. "Our goal was to make the Breeders' Cup (Juvenile) but he got out of stride a little bit. Our back-up plan was to come to the Jackpot. I like the back-up plan now."
When asked about next year’s Kentucky Derby, Winchell said "We still have a long way to go, but this was a good start."
Asmussen won the Delta Jackpot for the first time after six previous tries.
Sabercat, 10th at the half-mile point after he was bumped hard at the start, rallied heading into the final turn. But he was forced to wait for running room breifly before restarting his charge on the outside to get the lead from Basmati at the head of the stretch. He drew off in the final furlong in a strong drive for Melancon, completing the 1 1/16-mile test in 1:46.62 over a fast track.
"We had a terrible start, we got slammed pretty good leaving there," Melancon said after his first Jackpot win in five tries. "All I could do was save some ground.
``I found me a good spot going into the last turn and he came through horses like a champ,'' added Melancon, the sixth jockey to ride Sabercat. ``I did have to steady him a little bit behind (Basmati) because it looked like he ducked out a little bit, then I got him back on and he's all business.''
Southern California invader Basmati, who rallied from sixth to overtake 2-1 choice Drill on the final turn, held second for Corey Nakatani, 2 1/2 lengths better than another California entrant, Longview Drive, ridden by Joel Rosario.
Drill, seeking to bounce back from a 10th-place finish in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) for trainer Bob Baffert, and My Adonis engaged in a furious battle for the lead, stepping a quarter-mile in :22.11 and a half-mile in :45.41. Shortly after they had completed six furlongs in 1:11.60, My Adonis was finished and Drill would soon tire as well, fading to seventh.
Bred in Kentucky by Lantern Hill Farm, William J. Punk Jr., and the Lighthouse Group, Sabertcat is a dark bay or brown colt out of the Forty Niner mare Miner's Blessing.
His career mark now stands at 3-0-1 in six races with earnings of $681,420.
Sent off as the sixth choice in the field of 10, Sabercat carried 119 pounds and paid $18, $8.20, $5.60. Zilah Reddam's Basmati, trained by Doug O'Neill, picked up a $200,000 check while returning $7.80 and $5.40. The exacta was worth $164.40. Steve Beneto's Longview Drive, coming off a stakes win at the Big Fresno Fair for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, rallied from 10th for the show spot, paying $5.80.
Then came Seven Lively Sins, Laurie's Rocket, Jake Mo, Drill, Tiz Moe, My Adonis, and Dougs Buddy.
The Delta Downs Jackpot was one of eight stakes races on the Jackpot Day card worth $2.2 million in total purses.
Delta Downs reported an all-sources handle of $4,434,099 is an all-time Jackpot Day record, breaking last year’s mark of $3,817,849, and the highest total ever on a single day of the 38 year-history of Delta Downs. The total handle marked a 16.1% increase over 2010.