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Mission accomplished in Louisiana Derby
Twin Creeks Racing Stables' MISSION IMPAZIBLE (Unbridled's Song) wore down the stubborn pacesetter A Little Warm (Stormin Fever) to capture Saturday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds, giving trainer Todd Pletcher yet another arrow in his already-stocked Kentucky Derby (G1) quiver. Ridden for the first time by Rajiv Maragh, the gray colt closed steadily in deep stretch to complete 1 1/8 miles on the fast track in 1:50 1/5.
Mission Impazible, a wide-trip fourth in the February 20 Southwest S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park in his two-turn debut, broke alertly and actually held the lead in the opening strides. When A Little Warm gathered steam and went purposefully to the front, Maragh was happy to let his rival go ahead, and managed to drop Mission Impazible into a tracking spot along the rail.
A Little Warm proceeded to dictate splits of :23 2/5, :47 4/5 and 1:12, prompted by Pletcher's other runner, Risen Star S. (G2) winner and lukewarm 7-2 favorite Discreetly Mine (Mineshaft). Backtrack (Grand Slam) advanced briefly on the outside, while The Program (Harlan's Holiday), Wow Wow Wow (Broken Vow) and Mission Impazible formed the chasing group. Drosselmeyer (Distorted Humor), who broke from the far outside post 13, managed to work his way over to the fence under Kent Desormeaux's guidance. By the far turn, Drosselmeyer had crept up to join that flight of horses.
Entering Fair Grounds' famously long stretch, Discreetly Mine took a run at A Little Warm, but the leader was all heart in his two-turn bow. A Little Warm finally rebuffed the persistent challenge of Discreetly Mine, only to find two more rivals bearing down on him from either side. Mission Impazible, who had angled out for clear sailing, was hitting his best stride on the outside, while Drosselmeyer was gaining momentum to his inside.
Mission Impazible finished best of the trio, overhauling A Little Warm by three-quarters of a length. The runner-up held off the onslaught of Drosselmeyer by a neck, with Discreetly Mine another neck back in fourth.
"It was very ideal for me the way it played out," Maragh said. "Todd really didn't give a lot of instructions, but he did say not to get tangled up with Discreetly Mine on the front end. 'Whatever you guys do, don't wear each other out.' Everything worked out. The horse was always there for me, always willing to go, and that made my ride much easier.
"The horse broke sharply. He had natural speed, so he was always in contention off the leaders....When they made their move coming off the turn I just followed them and angled out and my horse really finished up strong and ran by the leader.
"He's a talented horse and he had some finish down the lane. He just exploded."
"That was kind of the way we had talked about it," Pletcher said of Mission Impazible's trip. "We wanted to secure a little bit of position from the inside and hopefully come away stalking the leaders, and he was able to maneuver exactly the trip that we were hoping for and then he was able to find a little more down the lane.
"We'll take him back to Palm Meadows and see how he comes out of it, but that's why we were there today (to earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby)."
Mission Impazible completed a Pletcher sweep of Saturday's graded stakes at Fair Grounds. His older stablemates Battle Plan (Empire Maker) and Blues Street (Street Cry [Ire]) had earlier accounted for the New Orleans H. (G2) and Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial H. (G2), respectively.
Sent off as the 7-1 sixth choice in the 13-horse field, Mission Impazible returned $16.20, $7.20 and $5. A Little Warm gave back $8.60 and $5.80 as the fifth choice at nearly 7-1, and Drosselmeyer, the 9-2 second pick, yielded $4.20 to show. The exotics were worth $123.60 (exacta), $745.40 (trifecta) and $2,892.20 (2-5-13-7 superfecta). Stay Put (Broken Vow), Ron the Greek (Full Mandate), The Program, Mister Marti Gras (Belong to Me), Fly Down (Mineshaft), Wow Wow Wow, Hotep (A.P. Indy) and Island Soul (Perfect Soul [Ire]) rounded out the order under the wire. Backtrack was eased.
Tony Dutrow, trainer of A Little Warm, was pleased with his colt's performance.
"I think the horse gave everything he possibly could," Dutrow said. "He fought hard. (Jockey) David (Cohen) kept needing him, and he kept giving. I thought the horse gave it all he had. I was very, very proud of his effort.
"Going back to Palm Meadows," Dutrow added regarding his plans for A Little Warm, "and I'll hear from (owner) Mr. (Edward P.) Evans what his intentions are from here. I don't know what Mr. Evans will want to do going forward. I don't know."
Desormeaux lamented Drosselmeyer's narrow loss, which left the colt with career graded earnings of only $94,500.
"I had tons of trouble," Desormeaux said of the third-place finisher. "I think I was the best. Now I might not even get him into the Derby. If I get through, I win by three and we're the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Instead, now I won't even get to ride him. Tough beat."
"Perfect trip," jockey Javier Castellano said of fourth-placer Discreetly Mine. "We just wanted to target somebody. He ran a good race. Turning for home, I thought the race was between me and (A Little Warm), but he didn't punch."
"I thought he ran real well," Pletcher commented about Discreetly Mine. "I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Javier and the guys back at the barn yet, but it looked like maybe the track was just cupping away from him a little bit. I thought he ran a big race and he kept trying, kept digging in down the lane.
"I thought it was a good effort, maybe not his best. Hopefully he'll come out of it well and make a step forward off of it."
Mission Impazible's $450,000 payday increased his earnings to $512,754 from his 5-2-1-1 record. The $200,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase broke his maiden at first asking at the Lexington, Kentucky, track last April. He had a nightmarish experience in his stakes debut two weeks later, when he bobbled badly at the start in the Kentucky Juvenile S. (G3) but recovered to finish third. Sidelined for eight months, Mission Impazible missed by a head in a January 9 allowance/optional claimer in the slop at Gulfstream Park, an effort that set him up for his solid fourth in the Southwest.
Bred by Summer Wind Farm in Kentucky, Mission Impazible is a half-brother to Grade 2-winning sire Forest Camp (Deputy Minister) and Grade 3 scorer Spanish Empire (Pleasant Colony). Mission Impazible is the second member of the family to enjoy success at Fair Grounds, for Spanish Empire had landed the Louisiana H. and placed in the Whirlaway H. (G3) and Tenacious H. at the historic New Orleans oval. They are all out of multiple stakes heroine La Paz (Hold Your Peace), whose latest offspring is a juvenile colt named Pazitively Perfect (Pleasant Perfect). Further back, this is the family of Grade 2 sprint star and former world record-holder Zany Tactics (Zanthe).