Grasshopper powers to victory in the Mineshaft.

Grasshopper powers to victory in the Mineshaft.

Lou Hodges Jr.

No Denying Grasshopper in Mineshaft

Neil Howard trainee makes impressive 4-year-old debut in Feb. 9 Mineshaft Handicap.

Grasshopper made an impressive 4-year-old debut and earned his first graded stakes victory when he took the $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) at Fair Grounds Feb. 9.

The sixth race on Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Derby Preview Day, the 1 1/16-mile Mineshaft set up perfectly for the son of Dixie Union, who hadn’t raced for over four months for trainer Neil Howard after finishing second to Going Ballistic in the 1 1/8-mile Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs Sept. 22.

With longshot Stonehouse setting the pace followed by Island Warrior and Silver Lord, Grasshopper got an ideal stalking trip in fourth on the rail under Robby Albarado. They went through early fractions of :23.41, :47.15, and 1:12.23 with the order remaining mostly unchanged. They hit the top of the stretch with Stonehouse conceding the lead briefly to Todd Pletcher trainee Magna Graduate, but Silver Lord came running to hit the front for a moment. The time for the mile was 1:37.16.

Shaken up by Albarado, Grasshopper split horses and drew clear to a 2 1/2-length win and a final time of 1:43.46. He returned $4.80, $2.80, and $2.20 to win. Silver Lord got second under Corey Lanerie and brought $3.40 and $2.60 to place, while Magna Graduate paid $2.40 to show under John Velazquez.

“That was awesome," Albarado said. "He has such a quick turn of foot. I was very patient; I knew it had to open up, and when it did, wow!”

The Mineshaft, which was run as the Whirlaway Handicap until 2004, was won for the third time by Albarado, who took the 2000 edition aboard Take Note of Me and won the 2002 running with Valhol. Ironically, Howard trained the race's namesake, who finished second in the race in 2003.

Grasshopper, bred in Kentucky by Will S. Farish, E. J. Hudson Jr., and James Elkins, is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Grass Skirt.

Best known for his second-place photo finish with Street Sense in the Travers Stakes (gr. I) last year, he now owns a 4-3-1 record from eight starts, having never finished off the board. His earnings total $508, 532. He is a full brother to 3-year-old Turf War, who dead-heated with Z Humor in the Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot (gr. III) for the same owners and trainer Mark Casse.

(Chart, Equibase)