01/14/2003 1:00AM

Next step up for Mineshaft


NEW ORLEANS - Mineshaft has done little wrong since he came to this country last fall, easily winning two allowance races and impressing his trainer with his professional demeanor. Mineshaft looks like a stakes horse and Sunday he will get the chance to prove it in the $75,000 Diplomat Way Handicap.

Neil Howard, who trains Mineshaft for Will Farish, Temple Webber, and James Elkins, confirmed Mineshaft as a scheduled starter in the Diplomat Way, where he will meet as few as five or as many as nine opponents. The horse Mineshaft has to beat is Discreet Hero, who came within a nose of winning the Tenacious Handicap here and has continued to train well for the Diplomat Way.

The field remains in flux because Sam Houston has the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup - another two-turn handicap race - on Saturday, and several prospective Diplomat Way starters could wind up in that race.

Regardless of whom he faces, it will be interesting to see how Mineshaft responds to his first dirt stakes test. Mineshaft is by A.P. Indy out of Prospectors Delite, making him a full brother to Rock Slide, the colt who beat Discreet Hero in the Tenacious. While Rock Slide has nursed a hoof injury (he is likely to run next on Feb. 9 in the Whirlaway), Mineshaft has continued moving forward after an impressive 3 1/2-length win over second-level allowance horses here Dec. 20.

Mineshaft made his first seven starts racing on turf in England, but failed to pan out as a grass horse and was moved to the United States early last fall. Mineshaft has blossomed since switching to dirt, winning both his races in fast times while racing well within himself. Since his last start, Mineshaft has continued training "really, really well," Howard said. "He looked beautiful in his last work," the trainer said of a five-furlong breeze Jan. 9 in a swift 1:00.

Mineshaft was scheduled for an easier half-mile work Wednesday to prepare him for the 1 1/16-mile Diplomat Way. Then it will be up to the horse to fulfill his promise.

Roar of the Tiger looks stakes-ready

Roar of the Tiger made his U.S. debut last fall in the same race as Mineshaft, finishing third, and like Mineshaft he is a colt with an outstanding pedigree whose fortunes have turned with a switch from turf to dirt racing. A sharp allowance winner here Saturday, Roar of the Tiger probably will run in a stakes race when he makes his next start.

Roar of the Tiger is a full brother to the European superstar Giant's Causeway - by Storm Cat out of Mariah's Storm - and like Giant's Causeway he was trained in Ireland by Aidan O'Brien. Roar of the Tiger won his career debut at age 2 but lost his first three starts as a 3-year-old and was sold privately to owner Dwight Sutherland, winding up in trainer Lynn Whiting's barn at Churchill.

Roar of the Tiger adapted slowly to American-style training, Whiting said, but started coming around later in the Churchill meet. "We thought changing to the dirt could be the key to this horse," Whiting said. "This fall, he'd shown me enough on dirt to make me think that was what would be in his future."

Roar of the Tiger had traffic trouble when he finished third to Mineshaft, but he has won consecutive allowances races here strikingly. After racing from off the pace in an entry-level allowance victory on Dec. 17, Roar of the Tiger showed good speed Saturday en route to a 2 1/2-length win. His time of 1:43.82 for 1 1/16 miles on dirt was among the fastest this meet.

"Our options are open with him right now, but a stakes is something that's in his future," Whiting said. Whiting probably will choose between two races, the Feb. 9 Whirlaway here or the Essex on Feb. 22 at Oaklawn.

Bonapaw healthy after loss

Bonapaw ran last as the odds-on favorite Sunday in the Colonel Power Handicap, but he exited the loss in good physical condition and remains on target for the Whirlaway.

A Grade 1 winner last season, Bonapaw raced in the Colonel Power less than two weeks after returning to training after a 30-day freshening on a farm. Bonapaw, who had not worked since his layoff, dueled inside on a very fast pace and tired badly in the stretch. Jockey Gerard Melancon eased up on Bonapaw when he was beaten, and on Monday morning Bonapaw - with his head down in his feed tub - looked no worse for wear.

Trainer Norman Miller said he had walked Bonapaw for nearly two hours after his race to make sure the horse cooled out properly. Bonapaw, visibly tired just after the Colonel Power, was full of life Monday, said Miller, who now will turn his attention to harnessing Bonapaw's speed for a two-turn experiment in the Whirlaway.

Rail trip, and then some

In the seventh race here Saturday, jockey Kirk LeBlanc took the inside route to the wire with his mount, Mine Glow. It was a trip he would rather not take again.

Coming into the stretch of the 5 1/2-furlong turf race, LeBlanc steered Mine Glow toward a narrow hole along the rail. Horse and rider were edging into the opening when it closed, and in a flash Mine Glow had crashed into and through the breakaway safety rail, currently placed out several lanes on the course. With LeBlanc trying to pull him up, Mine Glow ran the final furlong inside the fence on the protected inner grass. LeBlanc pulled him up, a few pieces of the fence were removed, and Mine Glow - scraped and bruised - was taken back to his stall.

"I just couldn't believe it happened," said Leblanc. "We got about a quarter-length into that hole and they pushed me in."

LeBlanc emerged unscathed from the incident: Let it not be said that he is a rider who fears going inside.