The $125,000 Mineshaft, for older horses at 1 1/16-miles over the main track, is one of six stakes worth a total of $885,000 (including the Grade II Risen Star Stakes for 3-year-olds of Triple Crown potential) that will be contested on a day that is billed as Louisiana Derby Preview Day Presented by Lamarque Ford.
All of which circulates back to the subject of Pants On Fire, who could become the third horse in the last five years to parlay a win in the Louisiana Derby to one in the New Orleans Handicap.
Trainer Todd Pletcher completed that mission that Fair Grounds double last year when Twin Creeks Racing Stable’s Mission Impazible won the New Orleans Handicap, and three years prior when Michael and Doreen Tabor’s Circular Quay accomplished the same feat.
Trainer Kelly Breen, who saddled Pants On Fire to win the Grade II Louisiana Derby last year, would appear to be ideally placed to repeat the local double if Pants On Fire were to run well in next weekend’s Mineshaft.
“He’s ready to run now,” said Breen last week of Pants On Fire, who would be ridden by Fair Grounds’ defending rider champion and current leading rider Rosie Napravnik in the Mineshaft. Pants On Fire has been away from competition since a fifth-place finish in the Grade I Haskell Invitational on the Jersey Shore at Monmouth Park last July 31. “We’re going to take it race by race right now.”
Pants On Fire worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 at South Florida’s Palm Meadows training center last Sunday.
In earlier winters in New Orleans, Edmund Gann’s Peace Rules, conditioned by the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, was able to complete the Louisiana Derby-New Orleans Handicap double in 2004, and Golden Chance Farm’s Master Derby, trained by the late Smiley Adams, parlayed the same double in 1976.
OTHER MINESHAFT HANDICAP EARLY PROBABLES – In addition to George and Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire, last season’s Grade II Louisiana Derby winner, another horse being given serious consideration for the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap at this time is Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras, winner of Arlington Park’s Grade III Washington Park Handicap last Sept. 3.
Following that score, Mister Marti Gras finished fourth in the Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup Oct. 8, returned to the winner’s circle in Churchill’s Grade III Ack Ack Handicap Nov. 4 and then ran fourth in the Grade I Clark Handicap at the Twin Spires oval on Nov. 25.
Other older horses under consideration for the Mineshaft Handicap at this time include the second, third and fourth place finishers in Fair Grounds’ $100,000 Louisiana Handicap, contested at 1 1/16-miles on the main track here Jan. 21.
Beaten a length that day when finishing second after being bumped entering the first turn was Jim Tafel’s Fast Alex, trained by Greg Geier, who had previously won Fair Grounds’ $72,000 Tenacious Handicap Dec. 17 and finished fourth in last year’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap.
Third under the wire in the Louisiana Handicap was Bourque Goldstein Thoroughbreds’ Alma d’Oro, a Todd Pletcher-trained son of Medaglia d’Oro who had finished second behind Mister Marti Gras in Churchill’s Ack Ack and run seventh in the Clark ‘Cap at the Louisville oval.
Also being pointed for the Mineshaft by trainer Mike Stidham is Terry Hamilton and Robert Morgan’s Gleam of Hope, fourth in the Louisiana Handicap after being bumped after the start and second in the Tenacious ’Cap.
2011 MERVIN MUNIZ MEMORIAL WINNER LIKELY FOR FAIR GROUNDS HANDICAP – Augustin Stable’s Smart Bid, winner of last season’s Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap as the headline attraction of Fair Grounds’ grass-racing season over the Stall-Wilson turf course, could be headed for chance to repeat in that local turf classic.
Conditioned by last year’s Kentucky Derby winning trainer Graham Motion, Smart Bid is on track for a run in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap on Louisiana Derby Preview Day Feb. 25. The $125,000 Fair Grounds ‘Cap serves as the designed local prep for the $400,000 Mervin Muniz Memorial.
Veteran reinsman Edgar Prado has been engaged to ride Smart Bid in the Fair Grounds Handicap.
Others considered likely for the Fair Grounds Handicap at this time include Andrews T and S Racing’s Mr. Vegas, winner of the Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap here Jan. 21 and trained by Richie Scherer; David Holloway Racing’s Dubious Miss, second in the Col. Bradley and trained by Paul McGee; Chester Miller and Patrick Dupuy’s Strike Impact, currently trained by Merrill Scherer and third in the Col. Bradley; and Connie Apostelos’s Papaw Bodie, a Mike Maker trainee who won the Grade III John B. Connally Stakes at Sam Houston at last asking Jan. 28.