The afternoon thunderstorm that rolled through Laurel Park yesterday left jockey Brent Bartram smiling as widely as any farmer or landscaper in the region. Bartram figured, correctly, that the rare sloppy track would suit the filly Delta Music, and his mount proved him correct with a romp through the mud in the $125,000 Straight Deal Breeders' Cup.
The first drops of rain fell in the middle of an allowance race that ran about a half-hour prior to the featured stake. Bartram, aboard eventual winner Sarahy in that race, admitted that he began thinking ahead to the Straight Deal Breeders' Cup and its six-figure purse before Sarahy had even crossed the finish line.
"I knew my horse would love this stuff," Bartram said. "I'd seen that in the [form], it's all there in black and white. So in that other race, when I felt the rain when we came into the stretch, I said, `That's going to be great for [Delta Music].' "
The same storm that made Bartram, a Delaware-based rider, so eager to get on with the Straight Deal Breeders' Cup almost caused its postponement. As the drizzle quickly turned into a downpour, lightning flashed on all sides of the track, inciting the stewards to hold all the entrants in the paddock until after the scheduled post time.
The delay gave bettors plenty of time to factor in the change in track conditions, which went from being officially categorized as fast to sloppy in a matter of minutes. The morning line had shown Delta Music as the fourth choice in the field of five fillies and mares. But with the chart of Delta Music's past performances disclosing wins in the only two races she had ever run on off tracks, she went off as the even-money favorite.
As soon as the gates opened in the seven-furlong sprint, Delta Music ran to form. Breaking from the second post, she quickly went to the rail and put some room between her and the field. Bartram had been directed by Saratoga-based trainer Neil Howard (who also trained the appropriately named 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall) to let her stay on the lead if she took it early, and he followed directions perfectly. By the end of the turn, Delta Music was in front by 3 1/2 lengths.
But heading into the stretch, jockey Mark Johnston and his mount, morning line favorite Nothing Special, had tired of getting mud kicked in their faces. Johnston took his mare on a three-wide charge from the back of the pack and briefly challenged Delta Music for the lead. But Delta Music proved more than up to the challenge. With only minimal goading from Bartram, she picked up the pace and darted for home. At the finish line, it was Delta Music by 2 3/4 lengths.
Delta Music finished in 1 minute 25 2/5 seconds, and paid $4.00.
"We all got a little smile when it started getting overcast here," said Mike Zweisler, an assistant to Howard who saddled Delta Music. "We knew what we had."