09/19/2013 4:16PM

Arlington Park: Nates Mineshaft has work cut out in Illinois Owners Stakes

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Reed Palmer Photography
Nates Mineshaft figures to have plenty of company up front in the Illinois Owners Stakes.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Nates Mineshaft is the big earner in the field, a multiple graded-stakes winner who comes out of the Arlington Million. But Nates Mineshaft might have a problem in the $65,000 Illinois Owners Stakes, the featured eighth race Saturday at Arlington: He is a confirmed front-runner in a grass route loaded with front-runners.

Nates Mineshaft, trained by Anne Smith for Windy Hill Farms, has been up and down in his four starts this year after coming back from a long vacation. His comeback run in the Hanshin Cup was abysmal, and the horse got very tired and bled in the race. He was much better in his next two starts, showing his speed was effective in grass races with a tough loss and a narrow win in a pair of high-end turf allowance spots at Arlington. The Million, however, did not turn out so well: Nates Mineshaft failed to make the front end and faded thereafter, finishing 12th.

His chance at a rebound Saturday would be much better were Tazz not drawn inside him, and Mr. Vegas and Warbird to his outside. All those horses want some part of the early pace, and Nates Mineshaft will either have to hope everyone else takes back, work harder than desirable to make the lead, or suddenly unveil a new dimension to his running style. On the plus side, his jockey, E.T. Baird, is the best gate rider at Arlington.

If all the pace shows – and steady horseplayers know that rarely happens – The Pizza Man could deliver a winning stretch rally under James Graham. The Pizza Man has won 4 of 7 starts over the Arlington turf and is the best of the closers in the Owners Stakes.

Warbird, somewhat surprisingly listed as the track’s 5-2 favorite, has been in great form this summer for leading trainer Wayne Catalano, but he was no match for Nates Mineshaft and also finished behind Mr. Vegas in a July 27 allowance race.

If heavy rainfall late this week forces a move from turf to Polytrack, all-weather-surface-loving Tazz could shake loose on the lead and prove difficult to catch.