02/17/2011 3:47PM

Mission Impazible, Loup Breton seeking old form at Fair Grounds


NEW ORLEANS – Lost after a Kentucky Derby win, multiple Breeders’ Cup wins, and another Eclipse Award as North America’s leading trainer was the fact that Todd Pletcher ran wild early in 2010 at Fair Grounds. Pletcher shipped horses here from Florida for nine stakes starts early last year, and, remarkably, came up with six winners.

Pletcher’s first two Fair Grounds runners of 2011 are scheduled to race Saturday, and both Mission Impazible and Loup Breton – like their trainer – would be well served turning the calendar back a year.

Mission Impazible’s most recent win came last March at Fair Grounds, when he captured the Louisiana Derby by three-quarters of a length. He raced once more in 2010 – drummed in the Kentucky Derby – before a knee injury that required surgery sent Mission Impazible to the sidelines. Mission Impazible made his comeback in a Jan. 23 Gulfstream Park allowance race, finishing second, and will be one of the favorites in the Grade 3, $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap.

Loup Breton’s task looks more daunting. The 7-year-old hasn’t raced since July at Del Mar and makes his first start for Pletcher in the Grade 3, $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, a race Pletcher won last year with Blues Street.

Mission Impazible is one of nine horses entered in the Mineshaft, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race that prefigures the New Orleans Handicap. The older horse, dirt-route division in New Orleans lacks a leader, and Mission Impazible might have landed in a good spot, provided he improves after his second-place finish at odds of 3-5 in a one-turn Gulfstream mile Jan. 23.

“I was a little disappointed he didn’t win,” Pletcher said. “He had trained so well, and I more or less expected him to win. But it should set him up to continue to move forward.”

Problem is, its hard to say exactly where a forward move takes Mission Impazible. He showed ability at ages 2 and 3, but his campaigns were interrupted before a solid line on the horse could be established. The stretch to a true route, at least, should be a plus.

“I think he’s at his best at two turns,” Pletcher said.

Recapturetheglory won the Jan. 22 Louisiana Handicap here, but owner-trainer Louie Roussel didn’t enter the horse in the Mineshaft. The second- and third-place Louisiana Handicap finishers, Apart and Country Flavor, are in the race, as is Demarcation, a troubled fourth in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on Nov. 26, his most recent start. Apart, a multiple graded stakes winner last year at 3, was favored at odds of 4-5 in the Louisiana Handicap but fell too far behind early in that race to catch the winner, rallying late for second.

“I hope he lays closer on his own,” said trainer Al Stall, who brought Apart back from a two-month break in the Louisiana. “I’m assuming that last race knocked some rust off.”

Loup Breton, meanwhile, raced for California-based Julio Canani last season, his high-water marks a win in the Grade 2 San Marcos and a close third-place finish in the Grade 1 Turf Classic on Derby Day at Churchill. Owned by the Wildenstein Stable, Loup Breton went off form last summer and will make his first start in seven months Saturday. Pletcher said the horse came into his care in November from a “layup facility in California” and that Loup Breton “has trained well for us.”

“Hopefully, his class comes through, but I think he’s probably at his best a tick farther than a mile and an eighth,” Pletcher said.

Trainer Mike Stidham has two Fair Grounds Handicap win threats, Workin for Hops, who makes his first start since September and races against older foes for the first time, and Gran Estreno, the 8-year-old who won the Colonel Bradley here last month. Workin for Hops debuted in a $40,000 maiden claimer in late summer 2009 but developed into one of the better 3-year-old grass horses of 2010, winning two Arlington stakes, finishing third in the Grade 1 Secretariat, and showing early last year that he could handle the Fair Ground grass course.

“Fitness wise, I think he’s ready,” Stidham said.

A deep race also includes Telling, winner of the Sword Dancer at Saratoga the last two years but winless in his other 12 starts during that period; Sleepless Knight, who upgrades from impressive allowance-race wins for trainer Kelly Breen; and Joinem, a sleeper who finished a troubled third in the Bradley, his stakes debut.