12/18/2002 12:00AM

Meet baby brother, Mineshaft

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NEW ORLEANS - A sibling rivalry is brewing in the Fair Grounds barn of trainer Neil Howard.

Rock Slide and Mineshaft, both dark bays cast in the classic Thoroughbred mold, live in adjoining stalls. Both are by A.P. Indy out of the outstanding broodmare Prospectors Delite, and Rock Slide, the 4-year-old, has a head start on his younger brother, the 3-year-old Mineshaft. Rock Slide won the Tenacious Handicap here in his last start, and trainer Neil Howard hopes he will develop into a horse for the New Orleans Handicap.

Friday at Fair Grounds it is Mineshaft's turn. Mineshaft, who has made only one start in this country, is one of nine horses entered in a strong second-level allowance race with a $40,000 claiming option.

Mineshaft began his career in England this May and made six starts there. But a dirt horse racing on turf is a horse with a serious problem. Mineshaft managed to win his maiden on grass, but early this fall he was shipped to Howard to begin his career anew. In a first-level, one-turn-mile allowance race Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs, Mineshaft rated in mid-pack, made a wide move, and ran powerfully through the stretch to win going away - Rock Slide, take notice.

"The funny thing about it is they're so similar in their demeanor," Howard said. "They're both so easy to be around and to train, but when they get in the paddock they put their game face on. Mineshaft's not quite as big, but he's a more correct horse than Rock Slide. He's a beautiful individual, and I just hope he can live up to that on the racetrack."

Mineshaft races around two turns for the first time Friday, but Howard said he'd be surprised if a route of ground would stop Mineshaft. "I don't think two turns is going to be a problem for him," he said.

The opposition Friday has plenty offer. Full Mandate, another A.P. Indy colt with a great pedigree, has turned in three strong efforts in a row for trainer Steve Asmussen and has worked four times over the Fair Grounds surface. Halo's Tiger showed talent winning a pair of Arlington races this summer, while Sterling Gold has been first or second in 6 of 8 starts for trainer Mitch Shirota.

Charmed Gift back in training

Charmed Gift, second in the Silverbulletday Stakes here last year, has returned to training after undergoing surgery to remove a bone chip in her ankle. Charmed Gift has logged two works in her comeback, and Howard said she's "probably about four to six weeks away from a race. If all goes well, she should see action at Fair Grounds."

Charmed Gift placed in several stakes at age 3, but is bred to be a better horse as she gets older. "She's by A.P. Indy, and as a general rule they tend to get better when they're older," Howard said.

Asmussen runs Caught in the Rain in Pago Hop

Caught in the Rain won a Grade 3 race in her last start, and since she has spent only about 10 days in Steve Asmussen's barn, Asmussen sees his task as a simple one.

"I'd better run her before I screw things up," he said Wednesday morning.

It's easy to crack wise when you've won with 13 of your first 37 starters at a meet. But Asmussen is serious about running her soon. Caught in the Rain makes her first start since being bought privately when she runs Saturday in the $100,000 Pago Hop.

Caught in the Rain made her first five starts at Philadelphia Park before capturing an allowance race at Aqueduct in October. She then won the Grade 3 Mrs. Revere at Churchill at 32-1, a win that led to her purchase by Heiligbrodt Racing Stable.

She will be part of a full field Saturday that is likely to include Bedanken, who was third by a half-length in the Mrs. Revere, as well as several other high-quality 3-year-old grass fillies.

All eyes on Handpainted

The last horse on the Fair Grounds racetrack during training hours Wednesday is one of the most promising horses at Fair Grounds this winter. Handpainted, one of the best 2-year-old fillies in Canada this year, had an easy jog Wednesday morning as trainer Josie Carroll looked on.

Handpainted is preparing for a 3-year-old campaign that could include a start in the Fair Grounds Oaks. But with Handpainted not even galloping yet, Carroll plans to start Buffalo Jump in Fair Grounds's first route stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the Jan. 26 Tiffany Lass.

Buffalo Jump won the Glorious Song Stakes at Woodbine to cap off her 2-year-old season. The Tiffany Lass would be her first start around two turns.

"We're trying to start stretching her out," Carroll said. "She's eligible for the Canadian triple crown for fillies, and I'd like to start getting her ready for that. She certainly looked like a horse that would go long."

Slow schooling races

The Fair Grounds track surface played slow during morning training hours Wednesday and even slower during four schooling races here: the fastest of the five-furlong races was timed in 1:02.60. Raised Right, a Neil Pessin-trained Clever Trick colt, recorded that time when he won the second race by a length. Raised Right drifted out a bit in upper stretch though he ran well, as did Close to Reno, who finished very well for trainer David Carroll.

Trainer Dallas Stewart won the first training race with Captiva Cat, but his other filly in that race, Herdy's Charm, turned in a sneakily good performance. Racing in traffic on the turn, Herdy's Charm moved into contention and was never asked for much in the stretch while finishing a close fifth.