03/02/2003 1:00AM

Mineshaft victorious in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS - Three months ago, Mineshaft won a first-level allowance race at Churchill Downs. Four starts later, he won the Grade 2, $500,000 on Sunday at Fair Grounds.

Ridden by Robby Albarado, Mineshaft pressed Bonapaw's moderate early pace, took the lead mid-way on the far turn and easily beat a strong field of 10 rivals. Mineshaft pulled away in the stretch to beat Olmodavor by thee-and-a-half lengths, with Strive another two-and-a-half lengths back in third. Mineshaft, who paid $12 to win, ran one and an eighth miles in a strong 1:48.92.

It was the second straight New Orleans Handicap win for owner Will Farish and trainer Neil Howard. Last year, they won with Parade Leader (co-owned by E.J. Hudson), a veteran who Howard had at a career peak for the race. But with his limited experience, there's no telling how good Mineshaft can be.

"You hate to get overzealous," Howard said. "But he's a beautiful colt and he's got the talent to go with it and a great mind."

Bred and owned by Farish, James Elkins and Temple Webber, Mineshaft started his career in England, where Farish is serving as a U.S. ambassador. Mineshaft won his debut at Newmarket, but racing on turf he failed to show the talent his owners thought he possessed. His English trainer, John Gosden, noticed Mineshaft seemed more comfortable when he trained over all-weather gallops, so the decision was made last fall to send him to Howard in Kentucky.

Mineshaft won his U.S. debut Nov. 27, then won an allowance race at Fair Grounds before winning the Diplomat Way Handicap here by a nose for his first stakes win. Mineshaft finished second to Balto Star in the Feb. 9 Whirlaway Handicap here, when Albarado experimented with taking Mineshaft off the pace.

"Last time I tried to teach him a little something," said Albarado, who won his first New Orleans Handicap. "Today I let him do his own thing."

Racing for the first time with Lasix, Mineshadt broke on top but let Bonapaw take the lead. None of the other potential pace players ? Booklet, Balto Star or Valhol ? challenged Bonapaw, and Minseshaft raced in the clear while Bonapaw set fractions of 23.87 seconds for a quarter-mile and 47.90 for a half, a moderate pace. Albarado kept Mineshaft about a length behind Bonapaw, but shortly after hitting the far turn Mineshaft delivered a sharp burst that brought him to Bonapaw's side. Bonapaw offered brief resistance, but Mineshaft left him at the quarter pole. Olmodavor and Strive, who stalked the pace, gave chase through the stretch, but neither could come close to Mineshaft.