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Jan 28, 2011

An early look at the Handicap division

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The new year in horse racing means a rekindling of interest in three-year-old thoroughbreds being readied for the Kentucky Derby. However, the older horses are just as intriguing as their younger counterparts.

It's a long way until the Breeders' Cup, but now is a good time to take a look at some of the older male horses in training.

In New Orleans at the Fair Grounds a few are ready to take to the track in competition. Friesan Fire and General Quarters are in the Crescent City for the winter, and Mission Impazible could make a start or two at the historic track.

Friesan Fire is a five-year-old owned by Rick Porter and Vinery Stables under the guidance of trainer Steve Asmussen. Two years ago he picked up victories at the Fair Grounds in the LeComte, Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. He was sent off as the 7-2 favorite in that year's Run for the Roses.

Another five-year-old is fan favorite General Quarters. Owned, trained and cared for by Tom McCarthy, the veteran runner is being primed for another successful campaign. In 2010 General Quarters won the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs and was second in the Louisiana and New Orleans Handicaps.

Champion trainer Todd Pletcher has 2010 Louisiana Derby champ Mission Impazible in his barn. The four-year-old finished second in a mile allowance race this past Sunday at Gulfstream Park as the 3-5 favorite. The Gulfstream start was the gray colt's first since finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby.

First Dude, 2010 Preakness Stakes runner-up, will make his first of the year in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park. The four- year-old colt is trained by Dale Romans for owner Donald Dizney. First Dude was third in last year's Belmont Stakes, second in the Pennsylvania Derby and closed his 2010 season with an eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs behind Blame and 2010 Horse of the Year Zenyatta.

The leading returning older male thoroughbred is three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti. Earlier this month the six-year-old claimed his second straight honor as champion older male turf horse. For 2009 Gio Ponti, owned by Castleton Lyons, was voted top older male thoroughbred. Trained by Christophe Clement, the talented runner captured the Man o' War at Belmont Park and at Keeneland won the Shadwell Turf Mile in 2010. He finished second to Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Gio Ponti, who is ridden by Eclipse Award winner Ramon Dominguez, is being pointed toward the 2011 Dubai World Cup on Saturday, March 26. Last year he was fourth as the favorite in the $10 million race.

Rounding out this brief look at the handicap division, is 2010 Pennsylvania Derby winner Morning Line. The four-year-old was a lukewarm morning-line favorite for last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He proved a worthy favorite, just getting beat in the Dirt Mile by Dakota Phone. In his first race of 2011 Morning Line was third in the Hal's Hope Stakes to Soaring Empire.

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