10/07/2003 11:00PM

Casual Look will attempt to fill Mineshaft's shoes


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Mineshaft was vanned from Churchill Downs to Lane's End Farm on Monday morning, leaving a massive void in trainer Neil Howard's Churchill barn. No one can realistically compensate for the loss of a superstar from a stable, yet Howard will try, eagerly awaiting his next golden opportunity.

He might not have to wait all that long. Some 24 hours after following the van to Lane's End and joining the entire farm staff in welcoming Mineshaft to his new surroundings, Howard was at Keeneland taking a close look at the latest potential star that owner Will Farish has sent over from England. Like Mineshaft before her, Casual Look, one of the probable favorites for the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on Saturday at Keeneland, is fully prepared to make American racing fans stand up and take notice of her abilities.

"Another baked cake," said Howard.

As the winner of the Group 1 Epsom Oaks in June, Casual Look carries a far better record to the United States than what Mineshaft brought with him. Of course, by winning five Grade 1 races, Mineshaft distinguished himself as a potential Horse of the Year in the months that followed his arrival last fall. With Casual Look, Howard is ready to start working on something similar.

Howard said Casual Look will run Saturday in the name of Andrew Balding, who has been training her. Balding is the son of noted British trainer Ian Balding.

"After that, she'll come back with me to Churchill," he said. "Mr. Farish hasn't filled me in yet on all his plans for the filly, but if she runs really big here Saturday, I know that he's thinking about the Breeders' Cup" - specifically the Filly and Mare Turf Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Casual Look is by Red Ransom out of Style Setter, a mare Howard trained for Farish. "She's like her mother, a beautiful, big, long-legged filly," Howard said. "Andrew told me they worked her a real strong seven furlongs before they shipped her over here."

So Tuesday, Casual Look breezed five furlongs over the Keeneland turf in 1:03.60.

"Just something easy," said Howard. "I understand that the main thing about her races is she really needs to be ridden a certain way, that there were some circumstances involved in her not running all that well in some of her latest races."

To that end, Farish and Howard have secured the services of Robby Albarado, the regular jockey of Mineshaft, to ride Casual Look in the QEII.

The Grade 1, $500,000 QEII is restricted to 3-year-old fillies and contested at 1 1/8 miles over turf. Nine opponents, including a handful of top-class fillies, are set to oppose Casual Look.

"This should be a worthy test for her," Howard said. "She's a Group 1 winner overseas, and there are some comparable type of fillies meeting her Saturday. It should be an excellent race."

Foremost among the challengers is Spoken Fur, who will be making her turf debut. Earlier this year she captured the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, both Grade 1 races on dirt. Her trainer, Bobby Frankel, also is expected to run Personal Legend in the QEII.

Other fillies expected are Aud, Campsie Fells, Film Maker, Indy Five Hundred, Maiden Tower, Ocean Drive, and Sand Springs.

Aud is an 11th-hour replacement for Solar Echo, the Ron McAnally-trained filly who arrived here last weekend. Solar Echo missed a scheduled breeze Monday and was subsequently declared from the race with an unspecified ailment.

* Following the Raven Run on Friday and the QEII on Saturday, the stakes schedule for this week ends Sunday with the $125,000 Thoroughbred Club of America, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares. Major contenders for the Grade 3 race include Don't Countess Out, For Rubies, and Vicki Vallencourt.