06/15/2003 11:00PM

Mineshaft's ride cost him the Foster

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NEW YORK - Horseplayers have blamed jockeys for bad rides since the birth of Thoroughbred racing. Most of the time, like with some of the of criticisms Jose Santos's ride on Funny Cide in the Belmont Stakes, the complaints are completely without merit. All of the time, the knocks are insensitive to just how dangerous a pursuit it is to ride a Thoroughbred racehorse in a race. Sometimes, however, criticisms of a ride are legitimate, and I think one of those instances involves RobbyAlbarado's ride on Mineshaft in Saturday's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

Despite the fact he went off as a 3-5 favorite, Mineshaft had a tough row to hoe in the Foster from the moment the race was drawn. Mineshaft drew post 12, a post that improved only a little bit when the numbers 1 and 2 horses in the Foster were program scratches. Predictably, Mineshaft was caught three to four wide on the first turn. That ground loss, although significant, could have easily been overcome if Mineshaft had been ridden with more patience and confidence; in other words, if he had been ridden like what he was - the best horse in the race.

The problem with Albarado's ride occurred nearing the far turn. For some reason, at that point Mineshaft was sent up from his stalking position in fifth, and in just a handful of strides he wrested command and opened a clear lead. This was a needless, premature move that certainly cost Mineshaft more than the head he was beaten by Perfect Drift. This is illustrated by an examination of the fractions in the Foster.

The first and second quarter-miles in the Foster were run in a solid 23.48 seconds and 23.32. The third quarter-mile, the quarter-mile in which Mineshaft went from 3 1/2 lengths behind to 1 1/2 lengths in front, was run in a strong 23.65. That means after losing important ground around the first turn, Mineshaft was asked to run a sub-23-second third quarter. What exactly was Albarado's hurry?

In contrast, check out what Pat Day did on Perfect Drift. As Mineshaft was being sent into a hot fraction, Day just sat there on Perfect Drift, doing nothing, biding his time. After three strong opening quarter-miles, Day knew the fourth quarter had to be considerably softer, and it was: 24.65 seconds. It was in that slower fourth quarter that Day launched his bid with Perfect Drift, gaining 1 1/2 lengths. No wonder Perfect Drift had better legs in the late stages and was able to pull off the upset, although it is a testament to Mineshaft's quality that Mineshaft made it as close as he did.

Brooklyn: Harlan's loss predictable

It is difficult to know exactly what to make of Saturday's Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park, which was also a major race for older horses. A lulu of a thunderstorm hit prior to the race before the Brooklyn, turning a fair, drying-out track into a sea of slop that produced two front-running winners in two races. It is hard to say if the track greatly aided Brooklyn upsetter Iron Deputy, or if Iron Deputy simply beat a Volponi who is looking for the blinkers he wore in his smashing Breeders' Cup Classic upset last fall.

One thing thoroughly predictable about the Brooklyn was that Harlan's Holiday would have trouble in his first start back after competing in the Dubai World Cup. Sure enough, he finished last, beaten 14 1/2 lengths as the 2-1 favorite.

People can say all they want about how Cigar, Victory Gallop, Silver Charm, and Captain Steve ran well back here after either winning or running well in Dubai. The facts are as follows: It took almost six months for Silver Charm to regain form, Captain Steve was 0 for 4 in his subsequent starts here, three at odds-on, and Victory Gallop managed only two more starts here before having to be retired. For every Cigar and Victory Gallop who did win upon returning here from Dubai, you have a Soul of the Matter, Siphon, Sandpit, Malek, Behrens, Puerto Madero, Public Purse, and Saints Honor who were never the same. I hope Harlan's Holiday can avoid this well-worn road to oblivion, but the facts say he's bucking the odds.

Dizzying Whittingham telecast

Storming Home was impressive again winning Saturday's Charles Whittingham Handicap at Hollywood Park, or at least I think he was. I watched the Whittingham on TVG, which presumably used Hollywood Park's television feed since TVG uses the track feed on all of the other races it shows. If that is the case, Hollywood's coverage set televised horse racing back 50 years.

The NBC television network finally got it, and much to its credit, it did not have one single camera cut during last week's 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. Yet, during the 1 1/4-mile Whittingham, there were an amazing nine camera cuts, including one bizarre, thoroughly disorienting ground-level head-on shot down the backstretch. Hollywood Park is also in love with head-on shots coming out of the gate, which makes it impossible to see which horse breaks on top, or which horses may have broken a few lengths slowly. With this kind of television coverage, I cannot imagine that there is a trip handicapper in the entire nation that seriously plays the Hollywood Park meet.