03/26/2011 4:43PM

New Orleans Handicap goes to Mission Impazible

Lou Hodges Jr.
Mission Impazible, (right) with Garrett Gomez up, wins the New Orleans Handicap over Apart (center) and Giant Oak (left).

NEW ORLEANS - Mission Impazible returned to the scene of his greatest victory on Saturday and captured the Grade 2, $400,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds, one year after taking the Louisiana Derby.

On or near the lead from the start, Mission Impazible ($5) kicked clear at the top of the stretch and went on to score a 1 1/2-length victory over Apart, who outdueled Giant Oak by a head for second.

Mission Impazible completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:49.02. It is warm and humid here today, with blustery winds.

With jockey Garrett Gomez riding him for the first time, Mission Impazible vied with Birdrun during the early going of the race, but the pace was sensible, with fractions of 24.05 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.46 seconds for a half-mile. Birdrun began to struggle after six furlongs in 1:12.65, and when the field turned into the stretch, Mission Impazible left him and opened an insurmountable advantage.

Mission Impazible was making his third start here. He was second last month in the Mineshaft Handicap, this track's major prep for the New Orleans Handicap, but the pace of that race was decidedly faster than on Saturday.
Last year, after winning the Louisiana Derby, Mission Impazible finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby, then was off for 8 1/2 months. Saturday's race was his third start of the year.

Mission Impazible has now won 3 times in 9 starts. Todd Pletcher trains him for the Twin Creeks Racing Stable partnership, but Pletcher assistant Michael Dilger was here to saddle him. Joining Mission Impazible in the winner's circle was Fox football analyst Terry Bradshaw, who is friends with the ownership group and a graduate of Louisiana Tech.

Giant Oak, the winner of the Donn Handicap in his last start and the slight favorite over Mission Impazible, was fanned about six paths wide at the top of the stretch and made a decent run to midstretch, but lost his punch late and missed second when Apart came back inside him to gain the place.

Giant Oak is now winless in five starts at Fair Grounds.

"I think he just doesn't like the track," said Shaun Bridgmohan, who rode Giant Oak. "He never grabbed a hold of the bit. He just doesn't get a hold of this track."