02/07/2009 1:00AM

Honest Man rates in Mineshaft win


NEW ORLEANS - Was that actually Honest Man out there in the Mineshaft Handicap on Saturday afternoon at Fair Grounds? It hardly seemed possible that the horse who had set a scorching pace a month ago in the Louisiana Handicap was rating down the backstretch a couple lengths off a notably slow pace. And the change in style produced a much better result, with Honest Man, third in the Louisiana, making a decisive move off the far turn on his way to a 4 1/4-length win in the Grade 3, $125,000 Mineshaft.

"I've ridden this horse from the beginning," jockey Gabriel Saez said. "He can do whatever he needs to do in a race."

Still, it was surprising to see Saez gently holding outside-drawn Honest Man as the horses passed the stands the first time in the Mineshaft, since the leaders were obviously dawdling. Comeback horse My Pal Charlie inherited the early lead, going the first quarter-mile in 25.52 seconds and the half in a very slow 49.19. Grasshopper tracked the pace in second, Good and Lucky was close, and Honest Man galloped along wide until about the three-eighths pole. That's when Saez asked Honest Man for run and quickly got a response.

"When I wanted him to go, he exploded really well," Saez said.

Honest Man quickened, and no one really went with him - the front-end horses producing only mild rallies and the closers spinning their wheels. Good and Lucky wound up second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of 14-1 Brothers Nicholas. Honest Man, trained by Larry Jones for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms, paid $6 to win. His final time of 1:44.16 for 1 1/16 miles was far from fast, but a strong final time was impossible considering the slow early pace.

My Pal Charlie gave way in the final sixteenth, while making his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

"He just got a little heavy the last part," trainer Al Stall Jr. said. "You never know what you have in a horse till you run them."

Third-choice Grasshopper turned in a disappointing showing, fading to seventh after prompting the pace.

"He'd done everything well, but he just struck out today," trainer Neil Howard said.