03/30/2012 3:30PM

Fair Grounds: Mission Impazible looks to extend Pletcher's dominance in New Orleans Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Mission Impazible, with exercise rider Nick Bush up, trains at Palm Meadows. Mission Impazible won last year’s New Orleans Handicap.

NEW ORLEANS – The question is what the heck did trainer Dallas Stewart think he was pulling in the 2009 New Orleans Handicap, won by the Stewart-trained Macho Again. The New Orleans Handicap – that’s Todd Pletcher’s race.

Pletcher won the race in 2007 with Master Command, in 2008 with Circular Quay, in 2010 with Battle Plan, and last year with Mission Impazible. Five seasons, four winners, and Pletcher has a great chance to make it five for six when Mission Impazible attempts to win for the second straight year in Sunday’s race.

Mission Impazible, the 122-pound highweight, was one of nine horses entered in the New Orleans Handicap, a Grade 2, $400,000 race contested at 1 1/8 miles on dirt. Mission Impazible is 5, but the race is heavy on 4-year-olds seeking to stake out their place in the older-horse dirt-route division. Nehro, Toby’s Corner, Redeemed, and Pants On Fire all are 4-year-olds who have yet to start in a two-turn stakes race this season.

They might be up against it Sunday. Mission Impazible does his day-to-day stuff during the winter in south Florida, but Fair Grounds is his home away from home. He won the 2010 Louisiana Derby here and used a second-place finish in the Mineshaft Handicap last season as a springboard to a solid victory in the New Orleans Handicap. This year, Pletcher changed Mission Impazible’s schedule, trying to get the horse his first win in a Grade 1. That almost worked, but Mission Impazible was beaten a nose by Hymn Book in the Donn Handicap on Feb. 11.

“That was a really, really tough beat,” Pletcher said. “He ran so well, but when he made the lead he idled a little bit. The other horse came so wide, and Javier [Castellano] wanted him to come out and see the horse and embolden him. It did. One more stride and he would have been back in front.”

Pletcher has trained Mission Impazible since his 2-year-old season and by now knows what makes him tick. Mission Impazible didn’t post a timed workout for more than a month after the Donn and has only worked as far as four furlongs in his three preps for Saturday’s race, but that is how the horse likes to be trained.

“He’s not a horse that requires a tremendous amount of training,” Pletcher said. “We try to keep him happy and put him in the right spots.”

Nehro, the 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up, made his first start since the Belmont Stakes when he easily won a first-level allowance race here Feb. 25. Nehro has posted steady works since his comeback race and should come forward Sunday.

“He’s really going great, and we’re excited to see him run,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “The New Orleans Handicap is a natural fit, because of him wintering there and having the victory over the racetrack. If things go well for Nehro, hopefully our next step will be a Grade 1.”

Pants On Fire, the 2011 Louisiana Derby winner, also won an allowance race comeback this winter, his on March 3 at Gulfstream.

“I think that race did not knock him out at all,” trainer Kelly Breen said. “He came back with a lot of energy, and he continues to train well. He ran against the best last year, and this looks a good guide to where we’re going to be for the rest of this year.”

Redeemed finished a solid third in the Donn and has run well in all three of his starts at 1 1/8 miles. Trained by Richard Dutrow last out, Redeemed runs Sunday in the name of trainer Paul McGee, but Dutrow’s brother, Chip, is overseeing his preparations here. McGee trains for Redeemed’s owner, Jay Em Ess Stable.

Toby’s Corner, the 2011 Wood winner, finished third in the Grade 2 General George, a Laurel sprint race, in his 2012 debut. Nate’s Mineshaft, who should set the pace with Pants On Fire, upset the Feb. 25 Mineshaft with a front-running victory. Fast Alex, Mister Marti Gras, and Thirtyfirststreet complete the field.

New Orleans H. (G2), Post Time: 3:51 CT Sunday

Purse: $400,000; 1 1/8 miles





ML Odds



S. Asmussen

S. Bridgmohan



Mission Impazible

T. Pletcher

J. Castellano



Nate's Mineshaft

A. Smith

J. Campbell



Toby's Corner

G. Motion

E. Castro




P. McGee

E. Prado



Mister Marti Gras

N. Pessin

J. Velazquez




D. O'Neill

J. Leparoux



Fast Alex

G. Geier

R. Albarado



Pants On Fire

K. Breen

R. Napravnik