Mineshaft, a winner of five of six starts since moving stateside, is the 121 topweight and 8-5 morning-line favorite for Friday's Pimlico Special (gr. I). Run the day before the Preakness (gr. I) after a one-year hiatus, the 1 3/16-mile event for older horses will be run just after the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II) in Baltimore.
A homebred racing for William S. Farish, James Elkins, and Temple Webber, Mineshaft makes his first foray to grade I company off a galloping nine-length score in the Ben Ali Handicap (gr. III) at Keeneland. Earlier in the year, he won the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II), Diplomat Way Handicap, and was second in the Whirlaway Handicap (gr. III) to Special starter Balto Star.
He began his career in Europe, but since returning home, trainer Neil Howard has had him in high gear. Neil Howard also trains Midway Road, a contender for the next day's Preakness. Since the Pimilco Special was re-introduced in 1988, two other trainers have pulled off the Special/Preakness double: Nick Zito in 1996 with Star Standard and Louis Quatorze, and Joe Orseno in 2000 with Golden Missile and Red Bullet.
Mineshaft is a 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy out of the blue hen mare Prospectors Delite, the dam of four other stakes winners. Prospectors Delite, winner of the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) in 1992, died in 2001.
The Kentucky-bred Mineshaft will break from post 3 and will be ridden by regular rider Robby Albarado.
Expect the early pace in the Special to come from Balto Star, Western Pride, and outsider Judge's Case.
Anstu Stables' homebred Balto Star (6-1) was second in his last effort, the Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct on April 5. A son of Glitterman, Balto Star defeated Mineshaft at the Fair Grounds in the Whirlaway earlier in the year.
Western Pride, the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, won the San Bernardino Handicap (gr. III) in his last start for trainer James Chapman. The effort was his first since finishing 11th of 15 in last May's Singapore Airlines Cup and ninth in last April's Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) for owners Carolyn Chapman and Theresa McArthur.
Judge's Case, a $100,000 claim two starts back by trainer Steve Klesaris for owner Sanford Goldfarb, was third in his last effort, the one-mile Fort Marcy Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Aqueduct. His three prior efforts were at distances of less than a mile. By Montbrook, out of the Upper Case mare Extra Case, Judge's Case has won 10 of 57 career starts and has earned $472,474. His lone stakes win came in 2001, over the local surface, in the $40,000 Lexington Park Claiming Stakes.
The field is laden with stretch-running talent. Joseph V. Shields' Puzzlement, three times stakes-placed in graded company, joins the field for red-hot trainer Allen Jerkins. Winless in four starts this year, he seems to be on the improve and will benefit from a quick early pace. He's a 12-1 shot on the morning line.
Patricia Pavlish's Aeneas (20-1) proved he could come from off the pace earlier this year at Gulfstream. He's coming off a second-place effort to Hero's Tribute in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. I).
Hero's Tribute, the third choice on the morning line at 7-2, won the Gulfstream Park Handicap by four lengths. The John Oxley-owned son of Sea Hero was second in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) earlier in the year to Harlan's Holiday.
One horse on the way up is Lakeside Farms' Colonial Colony, trained by Walter Binder Jr. The 5-year-old son of Pleasant Colony is coming off a second-place finish in the National Jockey Club Handicap (gr. III) at Hawthorne on April 19. A winner of only 3 of 18 starts, the Kentucky-bred gets in light with 113 pounds.
Pimlico Special (gr. I), 4-year-olds and up, 1 3/16 miles, $600,000, Friday, May 16
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, ML
1, Puzzlement, Jerry Bailey, 114, 12-1
2, Balto Star, John Velazquez, 118, 6-1
3, Mineshaft, Robby Albarado, 121, 8-5
4, Colonial Colony, Willie Martinez, 113, 30-1
5, Snake Mountain, Jose Santos, 120, 8-1
6, Judge's Case, (no rider), 112, 30-1
7, Hero's Tribute, Edgar Prado, 116, 7-2
8, Western Pride, Pat Valenzuela, 116, 3-1
9, Aeneas, Rene Douglas, 114, 20-1