At three, Lone Sailor did not live up to his looks. That may seem rather harsh for a horse that earned over $800,000 last year, but that’s just how good the son of Majestic Warrior appears in person. One of the finest examples of thoroughbred horseflesh I witnessed in 2018 is ready to see if he can take things up a notch when he tops a full field for the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap at Fair Grounds. The Triple Crown veteran will be making his 4-year-old debut and first start since last year’s Breeders’ Cup.

As a matter of fact, three horses who competed in last year’s Triple Crown will be returning in Saturday’s prep for the New Orleans Handicap. Joining Lone Sailor in the Mineshaft will be the familiar names of Flameaway and Quip.

As for Lone Sailor, the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which he was off slow, steadied, quite wide, and still managed to get within 5 1/2-lengths at the wire, was the finale on a season which saw him run ten times at seven different racetracks. Fair Grounds, though, is where the Tom Amoss charge got his sophomore season going last year. When last seen locally, the million-dollar Louisiana Derby was the scene of a difficult defeat for Lone Sailor, when Noble Indy outdid him to the wire.

That photo finish was one of three that he was involved in last year, and each came in a derby. Not embarrassed in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, the GMB Racing owned bay also lost the Ohio Derby in a photo, that time by a tantalizingly close nose. He finally broke through in a graded stakes when scoring in the Oklahoma Derby, also in a photo, in late September. That was his final race before a solid effort against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. James Graham will once again be up on Lone Sailor, and the morning line favorite has been working well for his return.

One year ago, Flameaway pulled off a minor upset when he knocked off Catholic Boy and Vino Rosso in the Sam F. Davis. The victory put the son of Scat Daddy, who had run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at two, on the Kentucky Derby trail. He made it to the first Saturday in May, but did not run his best that day.

In fact, the Mark Casse trained chestnut has not won a race since his nice victory 12 months ago at Tampa Bay Downs. Not for a lack of solid efforts, though, as he finished second in a trio of Grade 2 stakes. The Tampa Bay Derby, Blue Grass and Jim Dandy runner-up will have Tyler Gaffalione in the saddle for his 4-year-old debut and his first start in nearly six months.

Away from the races even longer than Flameaway is WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing’s Quip. The Rodolphe Brisset trainee has been away since running poorly in the slop and fog of the 2018 Preakness. Before that disappointing result, the son of Distorted Humor had given every indication of being a young horse on the rise. You’ll remember that he was the horse that defeated Flameaway, among others in last March’s Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

That big effort was only his fourth career start, and the first of his 3-year-old season. Quip followed that up with a solid second behind Magnum Moon in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. With only six lifetime races under his belt, Quip will be ridden by Luis Saez on Saturday, which will be his first race in nine months.

Chief among those that the returning trio will face in the Mineshaft includes the race highweight Harlan Punch. The experienced son of Harlan’s Holiday comes in off a stakes victory at Fair Grounds, when he accounted for the Louisiana Stakes last month for trainer, Brad Cox, and rider, Florent Geroux.

Photo of Lone Sailor courtesy of Coady Photography