09/05/2003 11:00PM

Mineshaft wows 'em in Woodward

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Mineshaft cruises home all alone in Saturday's Woodward, his sixth win and third Grade 1 victory this year.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Refreshed from a two-month vacation away from the races, Mineshaft picked up right where he left off Saturday as he dominated four rivals in the Grade 1, $500,000 , winning by 4 1/4 lengths before 13,108 at Belmont Park.

Hold That Tiger, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finished second, 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Puzzlement. Northern Rock and Thompson Rouge completed the order of finish.

Mineshaft, who never felt the leather of Robby Albarado's whip, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.21, which equaled the third-fastest clocking of the Woodward. Only Forego (1:45.80), Dispersal (1:45.80), and Precisionist (1:46) ran faster.

The victory was Mineshaft's sixth from eight starts this year - and his third Grade 1 - as he solidified his credentials as the top handicap horse in the country. Mineshaft has also won the Pimlico Special and Suburban.

"There's some nice horses out there, but he certainly has to be included in the upper group,'' trainer Neil Howard said when asked if Mineshaft was the best horse in the country.

Howard was downright giddy as he watched the Woodward unfold. Northern Rock and Thompson Rouge were head and head for the lead with Hold That Tiger just to their outside through an opening quarter of 23.89 seconds and a half-mile in 47.40.

"When I saw three of those horses in front of him, I said, 'Oh my god, how could this possibly happen?' '' Howard said. "I couldn't believe it . . . it was like Christmas.''

Mineshaft moved into third midway around the turn, blew past Hold That Tiger straightening for home, and when Albarado threw a couple of crosses at Mineshaft, Mineshaft got his final furlong in 11.70 seconds.

"I let him work a little bit today the last part,'' Albarado said. "He's not blowing, it didn't take anything out of him - that's scary. He's a phenomenal animal. I never felt anything like that.''

Edgar Prado, the rider of Hold That Tiger, was pleased with his colt's performance, but knew he was no match for the winner.

"He wins the Woodward any other year,'' Prado said. "Unfortunately, Mineshaft was in here. I couldn't believe how easy he ran by me. It was amazing to watch.''

Mineshaft will be pointed to the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup here on Sept. 27 as his final prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic, Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O'Brien, said Hold That Tiger would return to Ireland early in the week.