But this will be no typical weekend for Kentuckians, as the top-seeded Wildcats visit New Orleans to take on bitter rival Louisville in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. With Kentucky scheduled to play Saturday afternoon and Mission Impazible running on Sunday, let there be no doubt as to where the Twin Creeks loyalties lie.
The silks are described in the official program as: “Blue, White ‘UK’, Black ‘2012 New Orleans on a Mission’ on White Sleeves.”
The defending New Orleans Handicap winner looks to make history as the first horse to win back-to-back editions of the race after taking the Louisiana Derby. No other runner has ever managed a Louisiana Derby-New Orleans Handicap triple. Four – Fair Grounds Hall of Famers Master Derby (1974-1975) and Peace Rules (2003-2004), along with Circular Quay (2007-2008) and Mission Impazible – have won the Louisiana Derby and come back to take the New Orleans ’Cap. Three – Honor Medal (1986-1987) and Fair Grounds Hall of Fame members Tenacious (1958-1959) and Marriage (1943-1944) – took multiple editions of the New Orleans Handicap without managing a Louisiana Derby score.
Still, the Twin Creeks connections think their steel-gray runner is in good position to achieve what others have not. The 5-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song breezed four furlongs in 48.22 at Palm Meadows Training Center this morning in final preparation for his Sunday start, second-fastest of 19 timed works at the distance on the day.
“He’s just a good-doin’ horse,” said Randy Gullatt. “He tries hard in the mornings and he’s never failed to show up in the afternoons. We were very pleased with his final move and feel like we’re coming into the race in great shape.”
Mission Impazible recently ran second by a nose in the Feb. 11 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park. He prefaced that tough beat with a 3 ¾-length runner-up finish to Wise Dan in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs last November, and back in June of 2011 he was second in the Stephen Foster Handicap. All three races are Grade I events. Sunday, he returns to the scene of his 2011 triumph “on a mission” – as you may read on the sleeve of his special silks – to capture his first victory since last year’s New Orleans Handicap score.
“Running second in Grade I races shows off his talent, but running second doesn’t give you quite the attention that you might deserve even though he’s lost in extremely close finishes,” Randy Gullatt remarked. “We thought New Orleans was a perfect situation with all the UK fans going over there to say, ‘Hey, you’re making a bid at history and so are we.’ Hopefully we can pick up a bunch of new fans while he’s running at a track we know he does well on.”
Fair Grounds stewards gave permission for the “Big Blue” silks to be substituted for Twin Creeks’ traditional colors in an unprecedented occurrence – Kim Gullatt said she isn’t aware of any other racehorse that has run under team colors in support of athletes in another sport. Mission Impazible also shows the silks on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/MissionImpazible), where fans can comment and follow his career.
The silks will be on display for Friday night’s Starlight Racing at Fair Grounds before jockey Javier Castellano dons them aboard Mission Impazible April 1, then will be retired after the race and auctioned for charity Kentucky Derby week at the Race for Grace fundraiser to benefit the Race Track Chaplaincy of America. Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of 10 owners involved in the Mission Impazible partnership, is the guest speaker for that event.
With tip-off for the tournament semifinals at the Superdome scheduled for Saturday evening and the New Orleans Handicap slated for the next afternoon, the Twin Creeks folks recognize they’re taking a slight gamble. But even if the “Cats” don’t make it to Monday’s championship game, Mission Impazible will bear their colors.
“Even if UK does get beat, we’re still going to run in the silks just to show our support for the Wildcats and what they’ve done,” Kim Gullatt said. “It’s been a pleasure to watch them all year. I don’t know if I’m more excited about the race or about the game!”