Updated on 09/17/2011 10:53AM

Elite group in Suburban

Mineshaft lost the Stephen Foster by a head after victories in the New Orleans and Ben Ali handicaps and the Pimlico Special.

ELMONT, N.Y. - For the first time in seven years, Saturday's $500,000 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park will be run as a Grade 1 event. The nine-horse field assembled for the 117th running of the Suburban is befitting a race of such stature.

Four of the nine entrants are Grade 1 winners, and the other five horses have all finished third or higher in a Grade 1 event at least once. The Suburban, run at 10 furlongs, tops an 11-race card that also includes the Grade 3 Poker Handicap at one mile on turf.

The fact the Suburban was restored to a Grade 1 is one reason why trainer Neil Howard targeted this race for Mineshaft, who spent the first half of the year rapidly ascending the ranks in the handicap division. Victories in the New Orleans Handicap, Ben Ali Handicap, and Pimlico Special have made Mineshaft one of the rising stars in the division.

Though he lost last month's Stephen Foster Handicap by a head to Perfect Drift, the loss did little to diminish Mineshaft's stature. He had the outside post in the 10-horse field and may have moved a tad early under Robby Albarado, while spotting the eventual winner eight pounds.

"The horse has a real high turn of foot at the end of his races, which is a good thing to have," said Howard, who did not pin the blame on Mineshaft's loss on a premature move. "Believe me, it was nothing intentional on Robby's part."

While Mineshaft has met some decent fields this year, the Suburban - which includes Volponi, Harlan's Holiday and Evening Attire - is likely the toughest group he will have met. Mineshaft, who will break from the rail, is the 121-pound co-highweight, along with Volponi.

"You got some good horses that look like they're ready to hit their best stride right now," Howard said.

One of those horses should be Volponi, last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner. Trained by Phil Johnson, Volponi will be making his third start off a layoff, and, perhaps more importantly, will run with the addition of blinkers. The last time Volponi was equipped with blinkers, he won the Classic at 43-1.

Johnson said the reason he did not equip Volponi in blinkers for Volponi's first two starts this year - both second-place finishes - was because he felt the horse would have been too sharp.

"If he would have worn blinkers in his first two races, he would have burned himself out," Johnson said. "He was sharper than he was fit."

Last year, after Volponi finished second in the Meadowlands Cup, Johnson felt Volponi had lost "some of his lick,' which is why he put blinkers on for the Classic. In Saturday's Suburban, which seems to lack a true speed horse, Volponi could find himself on the lead under Jose Santos.

"I told him already you might have to do it," Johnson said. "There are holes in the blinkers in case he gets to the front too soon and somebody comes to him."

Harlan's Holiday, winner of the Donn Handicap and runner-up in the Dubai World Cup, is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Brooklyn Handicap. Trainer Todd Pletcher said that race can be thrown out, because Harlan's Holiday had his head turned when the gates opened, and he didn't care for the sloppy track.

Pletcher is concerned about the lack of pace in the race: "Hopefully, we'll be following somebody. If not and he's on the lead, then that's the way it has to be."

By default, Hero's Tribute could be the speed of the Suburban. As a 3-year-old, Hero's Tribute went gate to wire to win the Grade 2 Peter Pan in the slop. Earlier this year, Hero's Tribute won the Gulfstream Park Handicap racing close to the pace. Jean-Luc Samyn will ride Hero's Tribute from post 3 under 115 pounds.

Evening Attire, last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, comes off a fourth-place finish in the Brooklyn, his first start in seven months. Evening Attire should appreciate the 10 furlongs of the Suburban. Shaun Bridgmohan rides from post 4 under 120 pounds.

Dollar Bill will be making his first start for Bobby Frankel - an angle that produced Spoken Fur ($11) in last week's Grade 1 Mother Goose. Judge's Case, third in the Pimlico Special; Nothing Flat, third in the Travers; and Puzzlement, third in the Donn, complete the field.

The field

Suburban Handicap

Purse: $500,000; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1MineshaftR. Albarado1219-5
2Judge's CaseM. Luzzi11320-1
3Hero's TributeJ. Samyn1154-1
4Evening AttireS. Bridgmohan1206-1
5Harlan's HolidayJ. Velazquez1207-2
6VolponiJ. Santos1216-1
7PuzzlementJ. Chavez11312-1
8Dollar BillJ. Castellano11512-1
9Nothing FlatE. Coa11330-1

* Odds by Brian Pochman

* Television: Saturday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), CBS