09/26/2003 11:00PM

Mineshaft unstoppable

Mineshaft, under Robby Albarado, earns his fourth Grade 1 victory of the season in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. He has now won 7 of 9 starts this year.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Mineshaft did what he was expected to do in Saturday's . The big question remains, will he be asked to do any more?

In another flawless performance, Mineshaft took control of the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup leaving the three-eighths pole and cruised home to a 4 1/4-length victory over longshot Quest before 19,034 at Belmont Park. It was 2 3/4 lengths back to defending Gold Cup winner Evening Attire.

It was the fourth Grade 1 victory of the year for Mineshaft, who also became the first horse since Kelso in 1961 to win the Suburban, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup in one year. Mineshaft also won the Pimlico Special.

Mineshaft would be heavily favored were he to run in next month's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. But Will Farish Jr., who owns the horse with James Elkins Jr. and

W. Temple Webber Jr., said the Jockey Club Gold Cup was his target and it is a real possibility that Mineshaft will skip the Classic.

"It's certainly possible,'' said Farish, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain. "I'm not ruling out anything, but all along this has been our target. He's accomplished it in incredible style and he's accomplished it the hard way. We'll make what's going to be the right decision for us and for him.''

Farish has already announced that Mineshaft would be retired to stud at year's end and that he would stand for a fee of $100,000.

What Farish appears to be concerned with is the hard campaign Mineshaft has had and that a loss in the Classic could tarnish his reputation. The Gold Cup was his seventh win in nine starts this year. For his career, Mineshaft has 10 wins from 18 starts and has now earned $2,283,402.

Mineshaft, trained by Neil Howard, was as sharp Saturday as he had been all year. After breaking alertly under Robby Albarado, Mineshaft settled into third as Quest set early fractions of 24.08 seconds, 47.73, and 1:11.05 while being pressed by Moon Ballad.

Entering the far turn, Albarado sent Mineshaft after the two leaders and Mineshaft put a head in front of Quest at the three-eighths pole. From there the race was over. Albarado flashed his stick at Mineshaft a couple of times in the stretch and he covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.25 over a fast track.

"I just waved it at him once or twice, because I wanted to make sure nothing nailed him at the wire but he was so far in front and he was doing it so easy,'' Albarado said.

Mineshaft, the 2-5 favorite, returned $2.80. In a rarity, the New York Racing Association did not offer show wagering despite the Gold Cup having a five-horse field. There was a minus place pool of $71,334 on the race.