05/23/2013 4:12PM

Arlington Park: Nates Mineshaft using Hanshin Cup as comeback vehicle

Reed Palmer Photography
Nates Mineshaft scores a decisive win in the Lone Star Park Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Nates Mineshaft has accomplished more than any of his nine opponents in the Grade 3, $150,000 Hanshin Cup, and the race’s second-most accomplished horse, Mister Marti Gras, proved no match for Nates Mineshaft when they met twice last year. But that is painting the Hanshin in very broad strokes, and any bettor considering taking a shot with Nates Mineshaft, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, would do well to consider the finer points.

Nates Mineshaft is making his first start since last June and just his second on a synthetic racing surface. When he got very, very good early in 2012, it was in two-turn races, and the Hanshin is a one-turn mile. Nates Mineshaft has been working regularly for his comeback, but in the end, he has only two racetrack breezes under his belt. He has a new rider, and his trainer, Anne Smith, said that as much as anything, the Hanshin is a test flight to see just where Nates Mineshaft stands at the moment.

“I don’t have him ready now like I did a couple times last year,” Smith said. “Then, we knew what we had.”

What Smith (who was the de facto trainer of Nates Mineshaft, though her husband, Austin Smith, was his official trainer) and the owners Windy Hill Farm had for several months was one of the best two-turn dirt horses in the country. A reformed claimer, Nates Mineshaft came strongly to hand during the Fair Grounds meet and set a nine-furlong course record romping to victory in the New Orleans Handicap. He later scored a decisive win in the Lone Star Park Handicap, and came a close third in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster before infirmities put an end to his out-of-the-blue 2012 success.

It has been a long road back for Nates Mineshaft, and his connections are feeling their way back into a 2013 campaign.

“In a perfect world, the owners would like to keep him here at Arlington and see if he can handle the grass this summer,” Smith said.

In a perfect world for Mister Marti Gras, the Hanshin would be a two-turn race over 8 1/2 or nine furlongs, but with pace help on the front end from Nates Mineshaft, Hogy, Hammers Terror, and Night Party, Mister Marti Gras still might succeed at this unfamiliar one-turn mile. Second in a high-end Keeneland turf allowance in his 2013 debut, Mister Marti Gras has run well before over the Arlington Polytrack, and fits nicely in the Hanshin if he handles the trip.

Hammers Terror had a useful Woodbine sprint prep for the more suitable Hanshin distance, trainer Mike Stidham said, while Seruni enters this race in sterling form while forced to break from a less-than-sterling spot, post 1. All Stormy ran poorly in his only previous Polytrack try. His trainer, Greg Geier, has won the Hanshin twice before, with Country Flavor and Coragil Cat.