05/20/2013 12:51PM

Arlington Park: Nates Mineshaft ready to return in Hanshin Cup

Reed Palmer Photography
Nates Mineshaft got a late fall/early winter break from training.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Nates Mineshaft, who for a period of about three months last year was one of the top horses in the country, is set to return from a lengthy layoff in the Hanshin Cup here at Arlington Park on Saturday.

Nates Mineshaft worked a half-mile in 50.20 seconds under E.T. Baird on Sunday here, a work that pleased his connections enough that they plan to enter Nates Mineshaft on Wednesday in the Hanshin, a one-turn mile on Polytrack.

“The work went really well,” said trainer Anne Smith, who regularly gallops and often works Nates Mineshaft herself. “The sixteenth before the wire and the sixteenth after was the best part of it. He galloped out strong.”

Nates Mineshaft – officially trained at the time by Smith’s husband, Austin – rose from total obscurity during the 2011-2012 Fair Grounds meet to become a tiger on the track, his winter in New Orleans culminating in a 7 1/4-length, track-record-setting performance in the New Orleans Handicap. Nates Mineshaft ran poorly in the Alysheba Stakes, but rebounded with a strong win in the Lone Star Park Handicap and a close third-place finish behind Wise Dan and Ron the Greek in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster.

But the Foster would prove to be the last start of Nates Mineshaft’s campaign. His owners, Windy Hill Farm, strongly desired to make the Breeders’ Cup last fall, and pushed hard to run Nates Mineshaft in the Hawthorne Gold Cup in October, but Austin Smith, feeling the horse wasn’t fit to run, scratched him the morning of the race. Nates Mineshaft then was sent to trainer Richard Mandella in California, but Breeders’ Cup dreams eventually were dashed, and Nates Mineshaft wound up turned out on a farm during late fall and early winter.

“He went down to Ocala in January, chilled out for a month there, and then went back into training at Classic Mile about the middle of February,” said Peter Scott, one of Nates Mineshaft’s owners.

Nates Mineshaft posted four timed workouts at Classic Mile, a training center in Florida, before shipping into Smith’s barn at Arlington, where he has now worked twice. In his only other synthetic-surface start, Nates Mineshaft finished fourth in a Turfway Park sprint, his first race after being turned over to Smith.

“Like any horse that’s been off this long, he might be a little sharp, and we’re just hoping he likes the Poly,” Scott said. “We’re really looking forward to running him again.”