02/09/2008 12:00AM

Grasshopper finds room in Mineshaft

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NEW ORLEANS - Before the Mineshaft Handicap on Saturday at Fair Grounds, Grasshopper's reputation was staked on his second-place finish to Street Sense in the Travers Stakes. Now, there is further proof that this is a horse to be reckoned with in the handicap division.

Making his first start since September, Grasshopper wowed the Fair Grounds crowd with a glitzy stretch move, splitting horses about three-sixteenths of a mile from the finish and going on to win the Grade 3, $150,000 Mineshaft by 2 1/2 lengths.

Grasshopper was ridden by Robby Albarado, is trained by Neil Howard, and is co-owned by Will Farish, the connections who swept through the Fair Grounds older-horse series five winters ago with Mineshaft himself. Howard has thought highly of Grasshopper all along, and Grasshopper's impressive Saturday performance did not entirely surprise him.

"He did a lot being lightly raced last year," Howard said.

Grasshopper ($4.80) broke on top, but by the clubhouse was racing fourth on the rail as longshots Stonehouse and Island Warrior slugged it out through a quick opening half-mile in 47.15 seconds. Silver Lord made a wide move on the far outside, with Magna Graduate shadowing him. Albarado and Grasshopper found themselves stuck inside behind tiring speed, awaiting a hole.

"It's not that I was worried," Albarado said. "I knew something had to open up sometime."

Stonehouse and Island Sand finally drifted apart, Albarado put Grasshopper into the space, and the colt came flying through. He had aim on Silver Lord at the eighth pole and drew away to win in 1:43.46 for 1 1/16 miles. Silver Lord beat Magna Graduate by a head for second, with Better Than Bonds another nose back in third.

Fair Grounds Handicap: Daytona wires

Daytona answered all the questions trainer Dan Hendricks asked of him. Shipping from California to New Orleans, running on different sort of turf course - neither was a problem, as Daytona skipped over the Fair Grounds lawn and scored a sharp 2 1/2-length win over longshot Jazz Quest in the Grade 3, $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap.

Now, the question is what will become of Daytona, who is entered in a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale on Monday. Hendricks said he and the partnership that owns Daytona would have to discuss whether Daytona would go through the auction ring, return to Fair Grounds for the Mervin Muniz Handicap next month, or attempt a trip to Dubai for a race on the World Cup Card.

Jockey Mike Smith put Daytona right on the early lead coming out of the gate. Inca King - pulling hard as usual - applied token pressure, and the opening quarter-mile went in 23.97 seconds, quick for this course, and the half-mile in 48.55. Daytona slipped away from Inca King on the far turn, went clear by mid-stretch, and never was challenged, with Jazz Quest narrowly hanging on for second over Sterwins.

"I had to work hard to pull him up," Smith said. "I had a lot of horse left at the end."

Daytona, who was purchased overseas last spring, won his fourth straight graded stakes race. He paid $6.40 to win, and was timed in 1:50.09 for 1 1/8 miles over firm turf.

Better Talk Now finished a non-threatening sixth in his first start of the year. Jockey Ramon Dominguez told trainer Graham Motion that Better Talk Now "just was kind of flat," Motion said.

Colonel Power: Euroears still perfect

Euroears still doesn't know how it feels to lose a race, coming home a length in front in the Colonel Powers Stakes to run his record to 5 for 5.

Under Ramsey Zimmerman, Euroears stalked the pace, racing three wide behind the Steve Asmussen-trained duo of Natural Speed and Stormin Baghdad.

Breaking from the 11th post, Euroears raced the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.22 over a turf course listed as firm and paid $5.80 to win. Early leader Natural Speed finished third, while Stormin Baghdad moved up to place.

Euroears earned $60,000 for the win, bringing his career earning to more than $175,000 for owners James and Marilyn Helzer.

"He refuses to lose," trainer Bret Calhoun said. "He's all heart and talent and he's got a great mind."

"We got hung a little wide, but Ramsey made the right decision to not back up once he was going," Calhoun said. "We got to drop over on the turn, so we didn't give up a lot of ground."

The win was Euroears second on the turf, and regular rider Zimmerman was unable to pick which surface suited the colt better.

"He really likes the grass," Zimmerman said. "He was relaxed and breathing well, even though we were going that fast."

Pan Zareta: Graeme Six wins rematch

Graeme Six ($8) turned the tables on Sutra in the $100,000 Pan Zareta, scoring a 2 1/2-length victory under jockey Julien Leparoux.

Sutra had edged Graeme Six when the two met in an allowance race here Jan. 13, but on that day, Graeme Six was caught very wide on the turn, while Sutra skimmed the rail. In the Pan Zareta, a sharp Sutra was the surprising early leader, setting splits of 22.14 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, and 45.55 to the half, with Graeme Six pressing the pace. Leparoux let Graeme Six run up to challenge at the top of the stretch, and she gradually pulled clear, with Sutra holding second over favored Tres Dream. The six-furlong winning time was 1:09.93.

- additional reporting by Abram Himelstein