05/11/2003 11:00PM

After one year, a Special revival starring Mineshaft


BALTIMORE - After a one-year absence, the Pimlico Special is back, and one of the nation's rising stars will head the field.

Mineshaft, a winner of five of his last six starts, including the New Orleans and Ben Ali handicaps, tops a field of nine that was entered on Sunday for the $600,000 Special, which highlights an outstanding card on Friday at Pimlico Race Course.

The Special was not held last year because of insufficient money to fund the race. The race is back on this year, and it has been moved to the day before the Preakness Stakes, where it will share the spotlight with the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The 1 3/16-mile Special in recent years had been run on the Saturday in between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Mineshaft is "all dressed up and ready to go," trainer Neil Howard said Monday from Churchill Downs, where Mineshaft worked six furlongs in 1:13.60 on Sunday.

Howard, conservative by nature, was trying to keep his emotions in check regarding the son of A.P. Indy, but his enthusiasm seeped out.

"You know me, I don't get too overzealous," he said. "I don't like to say too much, because it can come up and bite you. But I think he's a very good horse. I think he's a Grade 1-type of horse. He's a beautiful horse, with a great pedigree. He acts like a good horse. He gets his game face on on the track, but at the barn he eats and lays down."

The main challenger to Mineshaft is Hero's Tribute, the winner of the Gulfstream Park Handicap. Balto Star, Snake Mountain, and Western Pride are the other top contenders.

One notable absence is Pleasantly Perfect, who won last year's Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Trainer Richard Mandella on Monday from Santa Anita said he elected not to send Pleasantly Perfect to Maryland because "he didn't do as well as I thought he should" in a one-mile workout last week.

Mandella said Pleasantly Perfect most likely would instead wait for the $400,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 14.

Santa Catarina wheels back quickly

Santa Catarina, the runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks, is coming back in just two weeks to head the $200,000 Black-Eyed Susan, which drew a field of 10 when entries were taken on Sunday.

Santa Catarina drew post 8 in the 1 1/8-mile race. Gary Stevens is back aboard. Santa Catarina worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 on Sunday at Churchill Downs, over a track rated muddy.

Among those set to challenge Santa Catarina are stakes winners Ivanavinalot and Roar Emotion. Ivanavinalot won the Bonnie Miss Stakes earlier this year, but most recently finished last of seven after a brutal trip in the Ashland Stakes. Roar Emotion, who won the Demoiselle Stakes to close out her 2-year-old campaign, was second in the Cicada Stakes on March 22 in her lone start this year.

Pletcher mulls his options

Trainer Todd Pletcher has entered multiple stakes winner Smok'n Frolic in Friday's Grade 3, $150,000 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff, but she is no lock to run in the race.

Pletcher also has nominated Smok'n Frolic, owned by Dogwood Stables, to Saturday's $200,000 Shuvee Handicap at Belmont Park and would prefer to run in that Grade 2 race. Pletcher is concerned, however, there may not be enough pace in the Shuvee, and his filly twice this year has been victimized by lone-speed winners.

"We would prefer to stay home and run in the Shuvee, but we don't want to run if it's a paceless race,'' Pletcher said Monday from Monmouth Park, where he watched a string of horses breeze. "I want to get a little bit of a line what the pace scenario is going to look like at Belmont before making a decision.''

Smok'n Frolic drew post 2 in the Pimlico Distaff, and Pletcher did not name a rider.

John Velazquez, Smok'n Frolic's regular rider, will ride Summer Colony in the Pimlico Distaff, a race Summer Colony won by a nose last year over Dancethruthedawn. Summer Colony, owned by Ed Evans and trained by Mark Hennig, has not been out since finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last October.

Summer Colony drew post 7 and is the 121-pound highweight.

Mandy's Gold, winner of the Grade 1 Beldame last year, drew the rail and could supply some of the speed Pletcher would like to see. Trainer Mark Shuman has entered both You'll Be Happy and Dance the Slew, a speed horse.

Others entered in the 1 1/16-mile race include Kiss a Miss and Stormy Frolic.

* Friday's Pimlico card also includes the $100,000 Joe Aitcheson Stakes for steeplechase runners, and the $75,000 The Very One Stakes for older female turf sprinters.

* Awesome Humor, unbeaten in four starts last year at age 2, was entered in Thursday's $100,000 Miss Preakness Stakes, but will instead make her first start at age 3 in an allowance race Wednesday at Churchill Downs. In her absence, the Miss Preakness favorite likely will be Forever Partners, who has won 3 of 4 starts, her lone loss a second-place finish behind Awesome Humor in last summer's Spinaway Stakes.

* During will run in Saturday's Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, trainer Bob Baffert said. During worked five furlongs at Churchill Downs on Monday in 1:00.40.

- additional reporting by David Grening