05/14/2003 12:00AM

How about a Jerry Bailey horse at 10-1?

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A quick glance at Friday's Pimlico Special Handicap suggests that Mineshaft might be a lock. Dig a little deeper, and the race starts looking more competitive and filled with value.

Although Mineshaft is unquestionably a talented colt with a bright future, he faces his toughest task to date in the Pimlico Special. For a horse who has never been tested in Grade 1 company, his 121-pound weight assignment is a bit hefty.

He may be up to the challenge. But at a short price, the reward seemingly doesn't justify the risk.

Here's why. He has not raced against a horse with the proven speed of Western Pride. A multiple graded winner of more than $1.1 million, Western Pride will go to the front in the Pimlico Special and dare the rest to catch him.

This should put Robby Albarado on Mineshaft in a tough spot. He can't let Western Pride go, or he is gone. Yet he also has to consider the classy horses behind him and the runs they will commence leaving the final turn.

One thing seems assured. To win the Pimlico Special, Mineshaft will have to stalk or pressure a quick pace. To date, he has benefited from stalking slow to moderate splits.

Is Western Pride the best alternative to Mineshaft? My inclination is to pass on playing Western Pride on top. Although he won the San Bernardino Handicap in his first start of 2003, he didn't draw away from runner-up Total Impact in the stretch. Perhaps that was because of his lack of recent action, or maybe Western Pride is not yet back to his peak.

Given an expected quick pace, I will shoot for a price with Puzzlement. Trainer Allen Jerkens has been high on this colt for quite some time, running him in Grade 1 races such as the Travers and Donn Handicap.

Although he hasn't won one of these, he has run well at times. He was third in the Donn behind Harlan's Holiday and Hero's Tribute, and last year at age 3 he was a close second to Sunday Break in the Peter Pan.

As for his last two somewhat lackluster races, he had legitimate excuses for both losses. He caught a sloppy track in the Fort Marcy Handicap at Aqueduct last time, and in the Gulfstream Park Handicap he made a premature move behind a slow pace.

The way the Pimlico Special sets up, a slow pace shouldn't be a worry. Chances are likely he will get a good trip with Jerry Bailey in the saddle. He's playable at odds of 10-1 or more.

Hard to look past Santa Catarina

Santa Catarina looks rock solid in the Black- Eyed Susan, the race before the Pimlico Special.

Because Santa Catarina ran second to Bird Town in the Kentucky Oaks just two weeks ago, some might look for her to be vulnerable on two weeks' rest. But with a light schedule this spring, she shouldn't be wiped out. Many forget how skilled trainer Bob Baffert is with managing a top 3-year-old filly.

He brought Santa Catarina into the Oaks off just an allowance race, yet he had her primed for the best effort of her career.

An outside draw and the way the race set up forced jockey Gary Stevens to keep her wide. Despite all the ground she lost, she was still good enough to beat such fillies as Yell, Ellulov, and Lady Tak.

As a non-stakes winner, she catches a weight break in the Black-Eyed Susan. She carries 117 pounds, five pounds less than graded winners Roar Emotion and Ivanavinalot. That edge combined with her ability should add up to a victory.