Mission Impazible won the New Orleans Handicap in 2011.

Mission Impazible won the New Orleans Handicap in 2011.

Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges, Jr.

Big Names Clash in New Orleans Handicap

Mission Impazible, Nehro, Pants On Fire, Toby's Corner all part of the stellar lineup

The $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. II) is the headliner April 1 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, but the biggest names and most talented horses may be running on the undercard in the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II).

A field of nine was drawn for the 1 1/8-mile event, which features some of the potential top handicap horses in the country. Mission Impazible , Nehro, and Pants On Fire all have had success over the Fair Grounds main track in the past, and each have turned in sharp races to begin their 2012 seasons. Also in the field is the only grade I winner, Toby's Corner, who signaled readiness for a strong campaign with a solid 4-year-old debut last month. Throw in recent Mineshaft Handicap (gr. II) winner Nates Mineshaft and you have yourself one heck of an undercard race.
Post time for the New Orleans Handicap, the first of the graded stakes on the Fair Grounds card, is scheduled for 3:51 p.m. CDT.
Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Mission Impazible (2010) and George and Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire (2011) have won the last two runnings of the Louisiana Derby, while Mission Impazible also won the New Orleans Handicap a year ago. Trained by Todd Pletcher, 5-year-old Mission Impazible is a head away (second in 2011 Mineshaft) from being undefeated at Fair Grounds, and is a neck (Stephen Foster Handicap) and a nose (Donn Handicap) shy of being a grade I winner.
The Donn heartbreaker came in Mission Impazible’s most recent start Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Park when he was run down by Hymn Book. The son of Unbridled's Song has worked steadily since then at Palm Meadows for Pletcher, including a four-furlong breeze in :48 1/5 on March 26. He will carry top weight of 122 pounds including jockey Javier Castellano.
“He’s just a good-doin’ horse,” said Randy Gullatt of Twin Creeks. “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.”
Pants On Fire, who won the Louisiana Derby and Monmouth Park's Pegasus (gr. III) last year, returned from a more than seven-month layoff March 3 to dominate a one-mile optional claimer at Gulfstream. The son of Jump Start  scored by 4 1/2 in that comeback race, and will now be reacquainted with rider Rosie Napravnik for trainer Kelly Breen. They will break from the outside post.
Pants On Fire has produced a 4-3-1 record from 12 starts. Sandwiched between his Louisiana Derby and Pegasus wins was a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
Zayat Stables’ Nehro also returned from a lengthy layoff to win in impressive fashion. Last year’s Kentucky Derby runner-up rolled to a 7 1/4-length optional claimer victory at Fair Grounds Feb. 25, his first race since finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last June. Based at Fair Grounds for Steve Asmussen, Nehro has worked four times over the local track since his comeback effort.
By Mineshaft , Nehro finished second by a neck to Pants On Fire in last year’s Louisiana Derby. He drew the rail this time and will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan while getting a weight break from the other top contenders (116 pounds).
Dianne and Julian Cotter’s Toby Corner also returned from injury Feb. 20 when finishing third in the seven-furlong General George Handicap (gr. II) at Laurel Park. He was beaten only a length in his first race since winning the Wood Memorial (gr. I) last April, a race that should have sent him onto the Kentucky Derby. However, a left hind injury forced him to the sideline.
Trained by Graham Motion, Toby’s Corner had his final work March 23 at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. He will be ridden by Eddie Castro.
Nates Mineshaft pulled off a 13-1 upset in the Feb. 25 Mineshaft Handicap, defeating another New Orleans handicap entrant, Fast Alex, by 2 3/4 lengths for his first stakes victory. The Austin Smith trainee has won his last three races--all at Fair Grounds--and is undefeated in four starts over the track. A winner of a $25,000 claimer in December, he will get his stiffest test to date. Jesse Campbell will have the mount.
Mister Marti Gras, a two-time graded stakes winner; Redeemed , third in the Donn last out; and California shipper Thirtyfirststreet, who was eighth in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on March 3, are also part of the contentious field.

$400,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 3:51 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Nehro (KY), S Bridgmohan, 116, S M Asmussen
2. Mission Impazible (KY), J Castellano, 122, T A Pletcher
3. Nates Mineshaft (KY), J M Campbell, 118, A K Smith
4. Toby's Corner (FL), E Castro, 117, H G Motion
5. Redeemed (VA), E S Prado, 120, P J McGee
6. Mister Marti Gras (KY), J R Velazquez, 114, N L Pessin
7. Thirtyfirststreet (CA), J R Leparoux, 113, D F O'Neill
8. Fast Alex (KY), R Albarado, 116, G Geier
9. Pants On Fire (KY), R Napravnik, 118, K J Breen