06/05/2012 2:48PM

Nates Mineshaft headed to Foster or Cornhusker


Nates Mineshaft, the one-time $25,000 claimer who’s building a reputation as one of the nation’s leading handicap horses, could have his next-race plans firmed up Sunday after he works at Churchill Downs. He is under consideration for one of two handicaps later this month, his trainer, Austin Smith, said Tuesday.

The options include the Grade 1, $400,000 Stephen Foster at Churchill. It will be run over a mile and an eighth June 16. The other consideration is the Grade 3, $300,000 Cornhusker at the same distance at Prairie Meadows on June 30.

“We haven’t ruled out the Stephen Foster, but the Cornhusker is a pretty good possibility,” Smith said. “We’ll see how he works on Sunday. But those races are in play.”

Smith has been monitoring how Nates Mineshaft has bounced back out of his last start, the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 28. He shipped from Kentucky to Texas and won the race by more than seven lengths, with a Beyer Speed Figure of 107. It was his second highest Beyer behind the 113 he earned in April at Fair Grounds, when he rolled to a seven-length win in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap.

“He came out of the last race really well,” Smith said. “I was surprised. I was concerned with the ship and the heat and shipping back. But he’s really been a good boy.”

Nates Mineshaft has won five of his last six starts, beginning with a $25,000 conditioned claiming route at Fair Grounds on Dec. 28. He proceeded to take a second-level allowance at the track in January and the New Orleans Handicap prep, the Grade 3 Mineshaft, in February. Nates Mineshaft was then sixth in the Grade 2 Alysheba at Churchill before recapturing his best form in the Lone Star. He is a 5-year-old who races for Windy Hill Farm.

Johnston back at Louisiana Downs

Trainer Edward Johnston has horses stabled at Louisiana Downs for the first time since 2005 this meet, and on Saturday he came within a half-length of sweeping the season’s first two stakes. Johnston sent out Ladyzarbridge to a more than two-length win in the $50,000 Honeymoon, while Wildrally finished second by a half-length in the $50,000 Franks Memorial.

Johnston said both horses are now being pointed for stakes at Evangeline Downs on June 30. Ladyzarbridge, who won on turf, will move back to dirt for the $100,000 Louisiana Legends Distaff, while Wildrally will target the $100,000 Louisiana Legends Turf. Johnston is 2 for 2 this meet at Evangeline, where he had primarily raced during the summers. This meet at Louisiana Downs, he has gone 5 for 13.

“I just wanted to go to day racing,” said Johnston. “Night racing, it’s a long, long day.”

Johnston has 20 horses at Louisiana Downs. He co-owns Ladyzarbridge and Wildrally with Chuck Zacney, who raced champion and 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. Johnston and Zacney have teamed together in racing for about 14 years. Johnston said Ladyzarbrigdge’s win was particularly satisfying. It was her first in her last five starts dating back to the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Ladies at Fair Grounds in December 2010.

“She seems to be back now,” Johnston said. “It took a year to get her where she needed to be. We gave her time off to heal her feet.”

Lady Zarbridge is a full sister to Zarb’s Ballerina, a four-time stakes winner who earned $495,440. Zarb’s Ballerina was retired following the 2011 meet at Oaklawn and in March had her first foal, according to Robby Robinson, who owns Zarb’s Ballerina with his wife, Treissa.

“She had a beautiful filly by Summer Bird,” said Robinson. “The filly looks just like Summer Bird, a chestnut with a white blaze face. Our plan is to sell the baby, possibly as a yearling at the West Monroe sale in Louisiana.”

Robinson said the foal is a Louisiana-bred, and that Zarb’s Ballerina has been bred back to Yankee Gentleman. Zarb’s Ballerina resides about five minutes from Louisiana Downs, at the Robinson farm in Haughton, La.

Fate’s Right Hand, a full brother to both Ladyzarbridge and Zarb’s Ballerina, won a maiden special weight for the Robinsons last month at Louisiana Downs, by more than eight lengths. He is stabled at the track, in the same barn as Johnston and Ladyzarbridge.

* Jeaneri, an 11-length maiden special weight winner in her last start, will move to two turns for the first time in her career Thursday night in the fourth race at Lone Star. She goes in a first-level allowance for fillies and mares at a mile. Jeaneri, 4, is a half-sister to Closing Argument, the runner-up in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

* Jockey Alfredo Contreras won with his first North American mount in more than six months Sunday at Lone Star, in the fourth with Malabar Slew ($18.40). Contreras had been riding in Saudi Arabia.