Mineshaft showed he is still a force to be reckoned with in the handicap ranks with an impressive victory over Volponi and Dollar Bill in the $500,000 Suburban Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Ridden by Robby Albarado for trainer Neil Howard, Mineshaft got a good jump out of the gate in the 1 1/4-mile main track test before being eased back with longshot Judge's Case taking over. Judge's Case continued to set the pace, getting the first quarter in "24 2/5 and the half in :48 3/5.
As the field neared the second turn, Albarado moved with Mineshaft and they were quickly joined by Volponi, who got a slight but ever so brief advantage coming out of the turn. Mineshaft then took charge and was chased through the stretch by Volponi for a two-length triumph. The winner completed the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01 2/5.
Sent off at 3-5 odds, Mineshaft paid $3.50, $2.40, and $2.10. Volponi was worth $2.60 and $2.10 and Dollar Bill, who has not won since March of 2002, came on for third, paying $2.40. Puzzlement, 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Evening Attire, Nothing Flat, Hero's Tribute and Judge's Case completed the order of finish. Harlan's Holiday was scratched.
Mineshaft, by A.P. Indy out of the Mr. Prospector mare Prospectors Delite, was bred in Kentucky by owners, Will Farish, James Elkins, and Temple Webber.
The Suburban was the colt's eighth win in his 16th career start and pushed his earnings to $1,383,344. Previous to the Suburban, Mineshaft won three graded stakes, including the grade I Pimlico Special, and finished second in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I).
"At the five-sixteenths pole, it was a question of whether he would go on or Volponi would go by him," Howard said. "Robby (Albarado) rode him beautiful and the horse ran beautiful. I'm not one to say, `He did it easy.' He ran a fantastic race. I would say he is in the top two or three [in his division]. I would say Medaglia d'Oro is still the one. We'll nominate to the Whitney (Saratoga race Course, grade I, $750,000, nine furlongs, Saturday, Aug. 2.) I would say it's 50/50. We want to be careful with what we do relative to the fall. We're thinking of giving him a little freshening. He's been going all year. I think this probably was the toughest race. Volponi is the Breeders' Cup Classic winner and Dollar Bill is a nice horse. "
"I take nothing away from the rest of them, but Mineshaft just toyed with them today," Albarado said. "He was going so easy the first three-quarters, it felt like he was getting into a trot. That's how easy he was going. I was going to wait for Volponi or whoever the first challenger was and shake them off, and that is just what happened. Volponi took a run at him, but this horse just took off. I have always been impressed by him."
"He ran a good race," trainer Phil "P.G." Johnson said of Volponi, who has three second-place finishes since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) last year. "Two seems to be his number for the spring. Mineshaft beat him fair and square. He got to him, but he couldn't beat him. He was in a perfect spot. He only had to run a sixteenth of a mile to get to Mineshaft. There was no excuse. It was a good race. I think Mineshaft is probably the best handicap horse in the country. If all is well, we'll go in the Whitney."
"I thought he ran very well," said Dollar Bill's jockey, Javier Castellano. "He did everything right. He responded when I asked. This was his first start off the layoff, and nobody was going to beat the winner today. You have to give him a lot of credit. I'm very happy with my horse. He came from behind and finished strong."