09/22/2003 12:00AM

Mineshaft works toward Gold Cup


ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Neil Howard didn't really need the reassurance, but he had to ask the question. Back at his barn, following Mineshaft's five-furlong workout Monday morning at Belmont Park, Howard asked exercise rider Annie Finney, "Were you happy?"

"Ecstatic," Finney said, breaking into an ear-to-ear grin.

Finney's response seemingly mirrored her trainer's thoughts after Mineshaft covered five furlongs in 1:01.52 Monday in preparation for Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. After covering his first quarter in 25.81 seconds, Mineshaft finished his last three furlongs in 35.71 seconds while hardly being asked by the rider.

"He did it nice, just within himself - it was perfect," Howard said after watching Mineshaft gallop out six furlongs in 1:13.80

Though the work may not have been as impressive on the stopwatch as Mineshaft's five-furlong move in 59.65 seconds last Monday, Howard was not looking for another bullet work.

"He went good the other day, don't get me wrong," Howard said. "But it wasn't what he needed to do. He's not going seven-eighths."

No, he's not. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is 1 1/4 miles and will be Mineshaft's final race before shipping to California for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. In the Gold Cup, Mineshaft will face Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker and Dubai World Cup winner Moon Ballad. Evening Attire, last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, is likely. Either Balto Star or Quest could emerge as a fifth starter.

Mineshaft has won his last three starts, including the Grade 1 Woodward over this track on Sept. 6. That was his first race since being given a brief freshening, and he ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.21 without feeling jockey Robby Albarado's whip. Empire Maker and Moon Ballad loom as tougher rivals than what Mineshaft faced in the Woodward.

"I think it's a step up in competition," Howard said. "I like the fact that he's got a nice, strong race under his belt to meet Empire Maker and Moon Ballad."

Moon Ballad arrived from England early Saturday morning. After spending a day in quarantine at Aqueduct, he was vanned over to trainer Tom Albertrani's Belmont barn Sunday. On Monday, Moon Ballad jogged a mile and galloped a mile over Belmont's main track. He may blow out on Wednesday or Thursday.

John Velazquez is expected to ride Moon Ballad.

Meanwhile, trainer Pat Kelly remains noncommittal on Evening Attire's next start, though it sounds like he's leaning toward a defense in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Evening Attire worked six furlongs in 1:13.26 on Sunday morning.

"It's $1 million in our own back yard," said Kelly, who is also considering the Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 3 or this Saturday's Hawthorne Gold Cup. "It's a heck of a lot easier to walk through the tunnel here than it is to go the Meadowlands or Chicago."

Trainer Shug McGaughey said Saarland would not run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup but would start next in the Meadowlands Cup. Saarland worked four furlongs in 50.52 seconds on Monday.

Dynever, another horse nominated to the Gold Cup, worked four furlongs in 48.62 seconds Monday at Belmont. But he, too, is likely to run in the Meadowlands Cup, according to trainer Christophe Clement.

Voodoo Dancer overcoming infection

Voodoo Dancer, among the leaders of the filly and mare turf division, last week spent three days at the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington, Ky., getting treated for a severe sinus infection. She returned to Clement's barn over the weekend and resumed training Monday morning, but she will likely miss this weekend's round of Grade 1 stakes leading up to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

Clement had been thinking of running Voodoo Dancer in either Saturday's $750,000 Flower Bowl at Belmont or Sunday's $500,000 Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita.

"We're probably running out of time for the Flower Bowl or the Yellow Ribbon - I say probably because she is an amazing filly and she can get ready quickly," Clement said.

Clement said he could either train Voodoo Dancer up to the Breeders' Cup or run her in either the WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland on Oct. 5 or the Kelso Handicap against males here on Oct. 4 as a possible prep.

Clement plans to run Dress to Thrill in Saturday's Flower Bowl. Dress to Thrill, who won the Grade 1 Matriarch last December at Hollywood Park, is 1 for 3 this year, with her victory coming in the Grade 3 All Along Breeders' Cup Handicap at Colonial Downs. Most recently, Dress to Thrill finished sixth in the Grade 1 Beverly D.

"She had a very wide trip in the Beverly D. and ran flat," Clement said. "She's trained well since, and I think she deserves a chance."

Corey Nakatani is expected to come in from California for the ride.

Others pointing to the Flower Bowl, run at 1 1/4 miles, are Dimitrova, Heat Haze, Primetimevalentine, Riskaverse, Snow Dance, and Walzerkoenigin.

Ajedrez ships in for Vosburgh

Ajedrez, undefeated in three starts since coming to the United States from Argentina, will receive his first class test Saturday when he runs in the Grade 1, $500,000 Vosburgh Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Ajedrez, trained by Wayne Catalano, left on a van from Chicago late Monday morning and was expected to arrive at Belmont early Tuesday morning.

Frank Calabrese, Catalano's main owner, purchased Ajedrez following the colt's second-place finish in a Group 3 race in Argentina in March. Prior to that, he finished sixth to Candy Ride in a Group 1 race on turf. Catalano said Ajedrez was among the top five Argentine-based horses, according to two of his advisors.

Ajedrez breezed through his conditions this summer at Arlington, winning three races by a combined 11 3/4 lengths. Eddie Razo Jr., who has ridden Ajedrez in all three of his Arlington victories, will come in for the ride in the Vosburgh. Ajedrez is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup.

Others pointing to the Vosburgh are Ghostzapper, Great Notion, Gygistar, Mike's Classic, Posse, and Voodoo. Possible runners include Papua, Peeping Tom, Private Citizen, and Sing Me Back Home.

Lunar Sovereign set for Turf Classic

Lunar Sovereign, upset winner of the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes in his last start, worked four furlongs in 49.65 seconds Monday morning over Belmont Park's main track. Afterward, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said the horse would run in Saturday's $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational.

"The thought is he's doing great and he's 4 for 4 at Belmont," McLaughlin said. "This is as tough as it gets. If he runs well here, that gives us a reason to look at the Breeders' Cup Turf."

A field of six to eight is shaping up for the 1 1/2-mile Turf Classic. Considered definite are Deeliteful Irving, Lunar Sovereign, Polish Summer, Sabiango, Slew Valley, and Sulamani. Possible starters are Storming Home and Macaw.

Volponi works four furlongs

Volponi, the defending Breeders' Cup Classic winner, worked four furlongs in 47.75 seconds Monday over the main track, the second-fastest of 60 works at the distance. He is being pointed to the Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 3.

Midas Eyes, the Swale and Derby Trial winner, earned the four-furlong bullet, covering the distance in 47.02 seconds. Midas Eyes dealt with a bruised foot all summer and is being pointed to the Grade 1 Malibu at Santa Anita in December.

- Lady Tak, the Test winner, worked six furlongs in 1:16.85 Monday in company with Souris. Trainer Steve Asmussen has still not decided whether to run Lady Tak again before the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

- Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan has switched agents, retaining Matt Muzikar to replace Steve Adika. Adika is expected to bring in apprentice Terry Thornton from the Midwest for the fall and winter.

- Ray Ganpath began serving a 10-day careless-riding suspension on Monday.