06/11/2003 12:00AM

Mineshaft's pedigree runs deep


LAS VEGAS - The racing world shifts gear to the older runners this weekend, with the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park, both at 1 1/8 miles. Along with Delaware Park's Leonard Richards for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, the races make up a national pick three.

With a $750,000 purse, the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap is the main attraction and will showcase the late-blooming Mineshaft. Like many runners by A.P. Indy who get better with time, Mineshaft has matured at age 4, especially since switching from grass to dirt. Mineshaft is making a strong bid for divisional honors with impressive stakes victories in the Pimlico Special, Ben Ali Stakes, and New Orleans Handicap. Mineshaft meets a tougher group in the Stephen Foster than he faced in those races, but is still the one to beat.

Stellar La Troienne female family

Mineshaft is yet another major stakes winner who descends in tail-female line from La Troienne, racing's most influential broodmare. Mineshaft is out of Fair Grounds Oaks winner Prospectors Delite (Mr. Prospector), who also finished third in the Kentucky Oaks. Prospectors Delite died in 2001, but all five of her foals were stakes winners. Mineshaft is a full brother to multiple grade 1 winner Tomisue's Delight and graded stakes-placed Rock Slide, and is also a half-brother to Delta Music (Dixieland Band) and Monashee Mountain (Danzig).

Mineshaft's second dam, Up the Flagpole (Hoist the Flag), was a prodigious broodmare as well. In addition to Prospectors Delite, her seven stakes winners include Flagbird (Nureyev), Runup the Colors (A.P. Indy), and Top Account (Private Account).

Mineshaft's third dam, The Garden Club (Herbager), was bred by Ogden Phipps and descends from the prolific broodmare So Chic, the dam of the 1965 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes runner-up, Dapper Dan (Ribot), and stakes winner Beau Brummel (Round Table). So Chic was a full sister to Glamour (Nasrullah), the second dam of champion Numbered Account. Glamour was also the dam of Poker, a superior stakes winner on turf and the broodmare sire of Seattle Slew.

Bred for classic distances, Mineshaft has a sufficient turn of foot to win at the Stephen Foster distance, but should be even more imposing at the Breeders' Cup Classic distance of 1 1/4 miles.

While Mineshaft will be a deserving favorite, he faces strong opposition in Aldebaran, Proud Citizen, and Perfect Drift.

Aldebaran, who won the Metropolitan Handicap at one mile, has also matured into a formidable stakes winner this year and is very capable of stretching out an additional furlong. By Mr. Prospector, he is out of the remarkable producer Chimes of Freedom, dam of stakes winners Good Journey, Sea of Showers, and Tomisue's Indy. Chimes of Freedom is also a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Denon, as well as Imperfect Circle, the dam of Breeders' Cup Mile winner Spinning World.

Proud Citizen, a son of Gone West from the family that produced Northern Dancer, has only had two starts following surgery. He finished second in last year's Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness behind War Emblem. He is rounding into form for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and should be included in all exotics.

Perfect Drift, third in last year's Kentucky Derby, is another 4-year-old who has shown the talent to be dangerous in the Stephen Foster. By Dynaformer, he showed natural ability on the grass earlier this year and now returns to dirt. He has been training very well for this race, and like Proud Citizen, he offers value and is a must-use in the exotics.

Unbridled Vision (Unbridled) has picked a very tough spot for his stakes debut in the Stephen Foster, but the half-brother to 1999 Belmont Stakes runner-up Vision and Verse has ability.

Brooklyn has top-class feel

The Brooklyn Handicap is a Grade 2 race but it looks like a Grade 1. It will feature last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi, Metropolitan Handicap runner-up Saarland, Donn Handicap winner Harlan's Holiday, and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Evening Attire.

Following Empire Maker's victory in the Belmont Stakes last Saturday, Unbridled could have another major winner this weekend with Saarland, who is also developing into a serious racehorse at age 4. Saarland's strong second-place finish to Aldebaran in the Metropolitan suggests the longer Brooklyn will be right up his alley. In fact, like Mineshaft, Saarland will be much more of a factor at 1 1/4 miles.

Harlan's Holiday is perfectly suited to the Brooklyn distance, and his tactical speed makes him dangerous.

Region of Merit returns

Tampa Bay Derby winner Region of Merit was freshened following a fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, and will use the Leonard Richards as a springboard to the major races for 3-year-olds this summer. Region of Merit is by Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold, whose first crop also includes Composure and Midas Eyes. Out of a mare by Gone West and having a second dam by speed influence In Reality, Region of Merit is a good fit at 1 1/16 miles.