With the greatest of ease, Mineshaft won his third consecutive grade I race since July and made his case for 2003 Horse of the Year by trouncing an overmatched field in Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
After the race, co-owner Willam S. Farish indicated Mineshaft, a 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy who has won seven of nine stakes starts this year (including four grade Is), might be retired to the breeding shed.
"This has been our target," said Farish, the United States Ambassador to Great Britain and a member of one of racing's leading families. "He's had a hard, hard campaign and we'll see (about the Breeders' Cup). This is a race I've wanted to win all my life. It's a great, great thrill, as you can imagine."
He said the owners and trainer Neil Howard would discuss a possible start in the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Santa Anita, which has already been hit with the loss of Candy Ride and most likely, Perfect Drift, Empire Maker and Funny Cide as well. A hoof injury knocked Empire Maker out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Mineshaft easily handled defending Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi in the Suburban Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont on July 5. Then, he won the Woodward (gr. I) also at Belmont on Sept. 6, covering the nine furlongs in 1:46 1/5 and doing it easily. In fact, his 4 ½-length victory was the fourth fastest Woodward behind Forego in 1976 (1:45 4/5); Dispersal in 1990 (1:45 4/5) and Precisionist in 1986 (1:46).
It was more of the same from Mineshaft in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
With Robby Albarado in the saddle, Mineshaft, the 2-5 choice of the public, defeated pacesetting Quest, ridden by Edgar Prado, by an eased 4 1/4 lengths in a time of 2:00 1/5 for the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup on a fast track. Evening Attire ran on for third, seven lengths behind the winner.
The outcome never seemed in doubt as Mineshaft came away well to settle three wide, some two to three lengths behind the pace set by Quest and 5-2 second favorite Moon Ballad. The frontrunners clipped off fractions of :24, :47 3/5 and 1:11. By then, Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Moon Ballad, never comfortable, began backing out of the duel. Mineshaft completed a mile in 1:34 4/5 while pushing to the lead without urging form Alabarado. He extended his lead to five lengths in the stretch while under an easy hand ride.
"Today and the Woodward were very similar races," Albarado said. "He's relaxing a lot kinder than he did in his first few starts this year. I just called on him -- not even very much -- at the three-eighths to the quarter-pole, and he responded very well. Neil (Howard) has done a great job with him, getting him to where he is today. I just waived the whip at him once or twice because I wanted to make sure nobody nailed him at the wire. He was still four in front and he was doing it so easy; he was just in second gear there. I felt real comfortable."
Albarado said he hoped Mineshaft would be able to run in the Breeders' Cup.
"It would be a big plus if he would run for racing to see a superstar like Mineshaft. He's simply unbelievable. Every race, he exceeds my expectations. Every time I ride him, I think that there can't be any more. And in every race, there is more and more and more. He's great for racing."
Mineshaft has now won nine of 11 since arriving in the U.S. from Britain in November. Saturday's $600,000 winning purse pushed his career earnings to $2,283,402.
If he doesn't race again this year, he is scheduled to head to Farish's Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky. to stand alongside his sire, 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy. A stud fee of $100,000 was announced earlier this week.
Except for Mineshaft's connections, there was probably no one happier than trainer Nick Zito, who ran second with 22-1 Quest.
"This was unbelievable; it's like winning," Zito said. "We've been second in a whole lot of Grade Is, but this is the most satisfying second of my whole career. This horse is really coming into his own. The winner is a great horse. The fans really appreciated him, and it is good to have a horse like that around. But this was just like winning for us."
The winner paid $2.80 and $2.10. Quest returned $2.10. There was no show wagering.
State Shinto and Moon Ballad ran fourth and fifth, respectively.