William Farish's Mineshaft, considered the top handicap horse in North America with three grade I scores this year, will be challenged by Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) winner Moon Ballad in the 85th running of the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Saturday at Belmont Park. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is one of four grade I stakes on the Saturday card. Also scheduled are the Turf Classic and Flower Bowl Invitationals, both worth $750,000, and the $500,000 Vosburgh Stakes.
For Mineshaft and trainer Neil Howard, this has been an exceptional year. In addition Mineshaft's 3-for-4 record in grade Is -- his only loss came when spotting Perfect Drift eight pounds in the Stephen Foster Handicap -- Mineshaft is 6-for-8 with two solid runner-up finishes. "All his races are top-notch, but the Pimlico Special (gr. I) was a pretty strong race," Howard said when asked what Mineshaft's strongest race was. "In the Pimlico Special, it was a big field and sloppy. He had never run in the mud before and it was a little bit of an unknown." Knowing that Mineshaft would need some kind of break after running every month since last fall when he came from Europe, Howard opted for a summer freshening. Mineshaft was away from the races for two months, but returned in style when he powered home to a 4 1/4 -length victory as the 1-5 favorite. "To come back and win the Woodward like he did off a little bit of a layoff was impressive," Howard said. When Howard reflects on his time with Mineshaft, one gets the impression that, for the trainer, it has been like a child going to an amusement park for the first time. The experience is great and it goes by quick. "We didn't know we'd get to this point," said Howard, looking back at the earlier part of the year. "I wasn't going to think that he could be one of the favorites for the Breeders' Cup at that time." Once Mineshaft established himself as a leading contender for the Breeders' Cup Classic this spring, one of the most important things for the A. P. Indy colt's connections was not to gaze too far into the future. "When a lot of questions started coming about the Breeders' Cup, Mr. Farish wanted to be careful about getting too far ahead of ourselves until we got through the Gold Cup," said Howard, who will give a leg up to Mineshaft's regular rider, Robby Albarado. "The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a race that Mr. Farish has always held in very, very high regard. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was the Breeders' Cup Classic. It was the championship maker. This is a race that Mr. Farish talked about very early on; even in the spring when we came out of New Orleans." Howard, usually one of the cooler players in the training game, was noticeably a bit on edge in his Belmont Park office this morning. He wants everything to go right for Mineshaft, who will be heading to Farish's Lane's End Farm for stallion duty upon the conclusion of his racing career. "This horse means a lot to Lane's End and to a family who has done so much for me and my family," Howard said. "It's an opportunity for me to give back to them. What else am I going to do, give the Farishes a nice lamp?" The most serious threat to Mineshaft figures to be Moon Ballad. While most of the Singspiel colt's races have come on turf in Europe, his best efforts have been on the dirt. He beat Harlan's Holiday by five lengths in the world's richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup March 29. In three starts since his World Cup triumph, Moon Ballad has yet to run over a dirt course. Instead, he has been facing arguably the best turf horses in the world like High Chaparral and Nayef in Europe's premier group I events, the Prince of Wales's Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes. "We're an international stable," said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford. "We felt it was very important to win a group 1 in Europe on turf because we're in the business of creating stallions." Moon Ballad did not crack the top four in his three group I turf attempts following the World Cup. At that point, Godolphin realized they needed to change the colt's program around and abandon -- at least for the moment --the attempt to win a group I on European turf. "We slightly ran out of options and took the view that [the Jockey Club Gold Cup] was definitely the best route towards the Breeders' Cup Classic," said Crisford, who added that Moon Ballad will be making his first start on Lasix in the Gold Cup. "We haven't exactly picked out the easiest spot in the world for him for a prep race. But this is one of the premier races in North America. It's a very exciting occasion for us." Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey will be seeking his fourth Gold Cup win aboard Moon Ballad.Usually when a horse returns to defend his title in a race as important as the Jockey Club Gold Cup that is the headline of the race. Evening Attire, however, may go into the Saturday feature relatively dismissed. In five starts this year, the gray gelding has won twice in conditioned allowance races and did run well in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga to be third behind Medaglia d'Oro and Volponi. When he met Mineshaft for the only time, Evening Attire was a non-threatening fifth in the Suburban Handicap (gr. I). "We're going to run our race," trainer Pat Kelly said. "If the big horse wins and we're second, that will be fine."PP. HORSE, TRAINER, JOCKEY, WGT.
1 Quest, Nick Zito, Edgar Prado, 126
2 Moon Ballad, Saeed bin Suroor, Jerry Bailey, 126
3 Mineshaft, Neil Howard, Robby Albarado, 126
4 Evening Attire, Pat Kelly, Mark Guidry, 126
5 State Shinto, Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore, 126