11/30/2007 12:00AM

Grasshopper targets Mineshaft

EmailMineshaft won the New Orleans Handicap en route to his championship season in 2003. Now, Mineshaft's connections are tentatively targeting the Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds as the 2007 debut of the highly promising colt Grasshopper.

Grasshopper hasn't raced since he was upset by Going Ballistic in the Sept. 22 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, but he has moved into trainer Neil Howard's Fair Grounds barn, and is galloping steadily along. Howard is not one to set strict timetables, but the hope is that Grasshopper will progress steadily enough that he can make his first start of the year in the Feb. 9 Mineshaft, then go on to the New Orleans Handicap about a month later.

"We gave him some time off, but he's back galloping, and little by little, we'll start picking up the pace," Howard said, reached by phone on Thursday. "We gave him more of a busman's holiday. We didn't let him down too much."

Grasshopper showed talent during the fall of his 2-year-old season, and was considered a prospect for early-season 3-year-old races this year, but setbacks delayed his 2007 debut until June. He won two allowance races over the summer, but it was his close second-place finish to Street Sense in the Travers Stakes that really put him on the map. Grasshopper came back slightly less than a month later in the Super Derby, and may not have been at his best at Louisiana Downs.

"Looking back, we thought maybe the Travers took a little more out of him than we thought it did," said Howard. "That's why we took advantage of October and November to get some time off. We think we'll be rewarded in the end by doing that. He put weight on, and he looks fantastic."

Another high-class Howard-trained performer, the turf horse Brilliant, hasn't yet shipped in to Fair Grounds, but is galloping at Keeneland, Howard said, and is scheduled to ship to New Orleans next week.

Howard also has some hopes for his 2-year-olds who are about to turn 3. In the group are two recent Churchill Downs maiden winners, the filly Highest Class and the colt Mambo in Seattle. Both should race in coming weeks at Fair Grounds.

Frankel barn starts with 24 here

The Bobby Frankel outfit has arrived in New Orleans, bringing 24 horses, a mixture of 2-year-olds and older claiming horses.

Frankel's assistant Scott Hansen, who will oversee day-to-day operations at Fair Grounds, is excited about the prospects for the meet.

"We're happy to be back in New Orleans," said Hansen, adding that there is the likelihood of the barn shipping in more proven horses for stakes races at the meet.

The first Frankel horse out of the starting gate is likely to be Marl, a 2-year-old son of Mizzen Mast who has been working at Keeneland. He could be entered in a race on Thursday.

Another maiden the barn has on the grounds is Major General, a son of Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes, Wood Memorial, and Florida Derby.

"We think he is going to be a nice horse," said Hansen. "He's still learning, and we're looking for a spot for him."

Major General finished third in his career debut Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs. He was beaten eight lengths by the promising Denis of Cork.

Perrodin's surgery complete

Doctors operated on Fair Grounds jockey E.J. Perrodin Tuesday afternoon to repair his damaged pelvis.

Perrodin, 50, was injured during prerace warm-ups for the last race on Nov. 23, when his mount, No No Bad Kitty, reared back and subsequently fell on him. Perrodin suffered a cracked pelvis, broken ribs, and a lacerated liver.

Doctors waited several days after the accident until bleeding in his liver stopped before performing the operation. He remains in intensive care, unable to talk.

"He focused his eyes on Thursday night," said his agent, Tony Martin. "He knew I was there. They've started feeding him through a tube. The surgery looked good. He's going to be all right. It's just going to take a long time."

TV program expands outlets

Fair Grounds has a new half-hour television program. In the past, the handicapping program was part of the simulcast signal, but the new program is carried live at 10:30 a.m. Eastern on the New York OTB signal, then rebroadcast at 11:30 a.m. on HRTV and at noon on the Fair Grounds simulcast signal.

The program is co-hosted by race analyst Jessica Pacheco and race announcer John Dooley, who worked together last year on a handicapping show for radio.

"With more people watching, even more people can hassle me about my picks," said Pacheco. "I feel like anybody can go out and pick the morning-line favorite. My grandma can do it. I feel like I have a responsibility to do my homework, try to dig up a horse that's being overlooked."

- additional reporting by Abram Himelstein