After back-to-back grade I wins, a case can be made that Giant Oak is currently the top older horse in the country. The 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway can help prove that status March 26 when he faces a strong field in the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds.
Giant Oak will face six rivals in the 1 1/8-mile dirt contest, including the top three finishers of last month’s Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III). The New Orleans Handicap is the first of four graded stakes on the Louisiana Derby Day card.
Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s homebred Giant Oak has gone from a horse that couldn’t win to one of the best older horses in the country in his last two starts. The chestnut horse ended a 14-race losing streak in the Clark Handicap (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in November when he won via disqualification. He followed up that victory with an impressive two-length score in the Feb. 5 Donn Handicap (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park to go well over the $1 million mark in a career that has produced 13 in-the-money finishes from 24 starts.
Trained by Chris Block, the Illinois-bred Giant Oak benefitted from a fast pace in the Donn, and will again look to do his best running late under Shaun Bridgmohan. They will break from post 6. Giant Oak was pegged as the 5-2 morning-line choice.
Seven-year-old Demarcation scored one of the biggest wins of his career in the Feb. 19 Mineshaft when he edged out Mission Impazible by a head. The son of Gulch has been a consistent earner during his career, producing a 10-5-8 mark from 37 starts and earnings of $625,050. Demarcation (4-1) is a five-time stakes winner and has three victories at Fair Grounds. Rosie Napravnik will ride for trainer Paul McGee.
Mission Impazible has returned well in his 4-year-old season after missing the second half of 2010 with a knee injury. The Unbridled's Song colt finished second off a nine-month layoff in a one-mile allowance race Jan. 23 at Gulfstream before taking a lead into the stretch of the Mineshaft only to be caught late by Demarcation. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Mission Impazible (3-1) scored his biggest career win at Fair Grounds when he captured the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) a year ago, a win that set him up for a run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). He finished ninth in the Run for the Roses. Garrett Gomez takes over the ride for the New Orleans Handicap.
Apart is looking for his first win of the season after running second in the Jan. 22 Louisiana Handicap and third in the Mineshaft. The Flatter colt won three consecutive starts at one point last season, including the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs and Ack Ack Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. He ended his sophomore season by finishing seventh in the Clark. Jesse Campbell will have the mount on Apart (4-1).
Making the trek up from Florida is Birdrun, winner of the restricted Carl G. Rose Classic at Calder last fall and sixth most recently in the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream in January. The Bill Mott trainee set a 1 1/16-mile track record at Belmont Park as a 3-year-old in 2009 when being clocked at 1:39.38.
$400,000 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II, Race 6, 2:49 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Fast Alex (KY), T Agilar, 114, G Geier, 10/1
1A. Country Flavor (KY), S J Sellers, 117, G Geier, 10/1
2. El Caballo (KY), R Albarado, 115, R E Nicks, 10/1
3. Mission Impazible (KY), G K Gomez, 118, T A Pletcher, 3/1
4. Birdrun (FL), R Maragh, 119, W I Mott 5/1
5. Demarcation (KY), A R Napravnik, 120, P J McGee, 4/1
6. Giant Oak (IL), S Bridgmohan, 122, C M Block, 5/2
7. Apart (KY), J M Campbell, 118, A M Stall Jr., 9/2