09/07/2003 11:00PM

Exciting East-West shootout looms


NEW YORK - With horses starting fewer times and given the spread of full-card simulcasting, which has all but removed regional barriers, the provincial battles that began with the West's Seabiscuit versus the East's War Admiral, and raged all the way through the East's Easy Goer versus the West's Sunday Silence, ended with the conclusion of the careers of the last two 12 years ago.

Or so we thought. Suddenly, there is the potential for another truly meaningful - not contrived - provincial battle. It is one that has the promise of making the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25 even more special than it already is. It involves the product of generations of the most exclusive bloodlines against an Argentine-bred. It is the representative of status and old money versus one who represents new money. It is East against West. It is Mineshaft versus Candy Ride.

Candy Ride threw down the challenge two weeks ago with a very impressive victory in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Mineshaft, who was already a firmly established divisional leader, met the challenge with an overwhelming victory in Saturday's Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Woodward was a highlight of an ambitious campaign by Mineshaft that has been full of high points. In his first start back following a two-month freshening, Mineshaft on Saturday sat off a pace that although contested was not very fast. Then, in the fourth quarter of the first mile, from midway around the far turn to midstretch, which at 23.26 seconds was the hottest fraction of the race, Mineshaft went from two lengths off the lead to 2 1/2 lengths in front. That is serious running in a dirt race, and he didn't slow down very much at all through the final furlong, completing it in 11.70 while extending his lead to more than four lengths.

Granted, it was four thoroughly outclassed opponents that Mineshaft humiliated in the Woodward, but it was still an impressive display of talent. And, that Mineshaft can be so effective after a two-month vacation suggests he could just sit and wait for the Breeders' Cup if that's what trainer Neil Howard wanted. But he won't.

Mineshaft is in the midst of a good old-fashioned campaign that supports the belief that racehorses are for racing, not training. The Woodward was Mineshaft's eighth race in a season that has seen him compete at five different racetracks in four different states, and he will race again before the Breeders' Cup, in Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sept. 27.

That underscores another difference between Mineshaft and Candy Ride. While Mineshaft will have raced twice in the time between Candy Ride's victory in the Pacific Classic and the Breeders' Cup, Candy Ride is scheduled to train up to the Breeders' Cup Classic, to which he must be supplemented at a cost of $800,000. It is widely expected he will be, and owners Sid and Jenny Craig have my respect for being game enough to write out such a large check.

So, the battle lines have been drawn, and though there are several other prominent horses being pointed to the Breeders' Cup Classic, the choices certainly begin with Mineshaft and Candy Ride. About the only thing these two have in common is they can really run.

Which side are you on?

Best 3-year filly? Anyone?

Even though Mineshaft and Candy Ride are dominant individuals, the handicap division has been strong and deep all year. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the 3-year-old filly division, which plunged to new depths when Buy the Sport, who had never been confused for Allez France in Europe, came from England and recorded a 48-1 upset in Saturday's Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap at Belmont.

At the start of this year, the 3-year-old filly division held great promise, what with the tremendous show Storm Flag Flying and Composure put on in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. But, Composure's career came to a premature end because of injury, and when Storm Flag Flying came back, she wasn't even a shadow of her former self.

The fillies who have attempted to step up haven't been able to maintain anything for longer than two races. Bird Town rose to the top of the division with victories in the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn, but her star faded with disappointing efforts in the Test and Alabama. Spoken Fur made a big move with victories in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, but she came back to earth in the Alabama, and didn't help her cause with a flat, albeit close third in the Gazelle.

Then, Island Fashion came along and romped in the Delaware Oaks, and Alabama, but she was beaten more than nine lengths finishing fourth in the Gazelle.

One filly who has shown some semblance of being able to sustain solid form over at least a little time is Lady Tak. But, she has the kind of distance limitations that you don't like to see in champions who aren't sprint champions, which was evident when she coughed up a big lead in the stretch of the Gazelle at 4-5.

What does it say when a filly like Composure may still be the best 3-year-old filly to have raced this year even though she went home five months ago?