10/01/2003 11:00PM

If Farish takes a pass, fans get (Mine)shafted

Email

ELMONT, N.Y. - Some thoughts after the dust has settled on last week's stakes, which were Breeders' Cup preps for some, but not others.

* The Vosburgh looked like a paceless race on paper, which figured to work against a deep closer like Ghostzapper. It didn't work out that way, however. Voodoo went to the lead as expected, but was hard-pressed through a fast first quarter in 21.89 seconds and had to run his second quarter in a blazing 22.37 to maintain the lead. This set the table for Ghostzapper, who put in a quick four-wide move and blew by the field as 8-5 favorite Gygistar failed to fire.

This situation happens every now and then. A race looks light in terms of early speed, so the natural inclination is to look for a horse who might get the lead by default, or perhaps race closeup and get first run on the closers. One of two things can happen to confound this scenario:

1. Jockeys can read Daily Racing Form, too, and several of them may decide to take advantage of the situation by urging their mounts earlier than usual. Suddenly, you've got a fast pace that was hard to foresee.

2. The pace may develop slowly, in which case the horses on or close to the lead are being taken out of their usual game to a certain extent. In this case, when the pace is soft and the field is closely bunched, the advantage may go to the horse with the best finishing ability, regardless of the tepid fractions. This happens occasionally on dirt, but quite often in turf routes, where the early pace is often irrelevant to begin with.

* Even though Ghostzapper came within a tick of Belmont's track record for 6 1/2 furlongs, it looks as though he will not be going to the Breeders' Cup - even if his owner also happens to own the host track. Ghostzapper is lightly raced and getting better with every start, and his Vosburgh run was electrifying, but he will not run in the BC Sprint because of concerns about his ability to go three-quarters at Santa Anita.

"It's tough because he doesn't like dirt in his face, and they don't throw back sand there, they throw back clods," Bobby Frankel said.

This he-doesn't-like-dirt-in-his-face mentality has reached epidemic proportions, and I'm here to tell you it's killing fan interest in the game.

How about this quote from Barclay Tagg regarding Funny Cide in Thursday's Form: "I'll probably enter him in the Empire Classic and if I don't like the post or I don't like the competition or I don't like the surface I won't run him."

So in other words, if Funny Cide gets, like, post 5 (outside the other speed, of course), and the field is mostly tomato cans, and it's a nice day, not too windy or anything, and we're 1-5, maybe he will actually run. Great. Can't wait.

But the most troubling development is the waffling from the Mineshaft camp about whether to go to the Classic.

"I have to be totally objective about this and stick with the plan from the beginning, which was to get him to the Jockey Club Gold Cup," said Will Farish, who, by the way, is a founding member of the Breeders' Cup.

Excuse me?! The Gold Cup was the main objective? Should that be taken to mean that after mastering Quest and State Shinto, there's nothing left to prove?

"There's a lot of people involved that come into play now," trainer Neil Howard said. "The breeding industry, that's where it all starts."

Am I missing something here? Isn't that why we have the Breeders' Cup? And isn't the drama of how championships are won and lost on the racetrack really where it all starts?

Mineshaft is a multiple Grade 1 winner at the peak of his powers. Shouldn't such a colt be afforded the chance to be great?

And make no mistake, Mineshaft is not great yet, not when he came up a head short the only time he was meaningfully challenged in deep stretch of a Grade 1 race this year.

He might be great. How would anyone ever really know unless and until he is given the chance to prove it?

Yes, it's a tough ship out to California.

Skip Away handled it fine. He was great, and his trainer, Sonny Hine, made sure everyone would know it.

Did any racing fan or breeders think any less of the brittle-footed Slew O' Gold when, after taking the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, he went out to Hollywood Park - in bar shoes - and put the freakin' Breeders' Cup on the map in that epic battle with Wild Again and Gate Dancer?

Hey, maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe they can have Candy Ride, Empire Maker, Perfect Drift, and Mineshaft lead the post parade for the Classic. That will be exciting.

What I know is this: If Mineshaft physically and mentally is good to go, and he is anywhere but in the gate for the Classic, I'm turning off the Breeders' Cup "World Thoroughbred Championship" telecast the minute the Turf results are official, because who wins, what will it matter? And why should anyone care?