Arlington International Barn Notes: “Nates Mineshaft” Back to Old Self for New Trainer Anne P. Smith

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In the first half of 2012, Nates Mineshaft was considered one of the best horses in training. The Windy Hill Farm-owned ridgling justified those opinions with four wins in six starts, $560,490 in earnings, a track record-setting victory in the Grade II New Orleans Handicap and a third-place finish in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap – less than a length behind eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan. Now, at age six and after nearly a year of obscurity, the classy campaigner is back to his old self – and that was on display on Saturday afternoon at his new home of Arlington International Racecourse.

The 2013 version of the son of Mineshaft lovingly called “Nate” around the barn is sound, fit and the star of his new trainer Anne P. Smith’s 14-horse barn. Saturday’s victory in a stakes-worthy allowance was his third race of the Arlington meet following a uncharacteristically poor showing (ninth, beaten 19 lengths) in the Grade III Hanshin Cup and a solid pace-setting second in an allowance race on June 30. On Saturday, he sprinted to the lead in his first start on the grass since May 2010 (his second start) and never looked back at an overlay of 9.40-1 odds.

“I only had him for a couple weeks when we ran in the Hanshin. He didn’t get into my barn until the second week of May. We’ve had him now for about 2½ months and I have a real feel for him,” explained Smith. “I don’t have an assistant or a foreman. I am always hands-on with all my horses, and that’s helped – especially with him. ‘Nate’ definitely needs someone who knows him inside and out. He’s a little high-maintenance, but I don’t mind – I love having him around the barn.”

After being sent to Richard Mandella’s barn in California in a failed attempt to make last year’s Breeders’ Cup off a long layoff (from the Foster), Nates Mineshaft was turned out and eventually came back into training this spring with Smith, who herself has only been training since November 2012. “I’ve had my license for about five years, but have only been a trainer on paper since November. I was helping my ex-husband while he trained and I also worked with Carl Nafzger and Ian Wilkes as an exercise rider for a while. I’ve also trained show jumpers for about 15 years. So I guess I’m kind of like (Kentucky Derby-winning and decorated show jumper) Michael Matz, but on a smaller scale,” elaborated the conditioner.

Having a horse of Nates Mineshaft’s ability in the barn is a welcome challenge for Smith. “He’s just a good, talented horse. We’re obviously happy about yesterday. Peter (Reiman, one of the owners) is happy with the win. We’ve worked him on the grass twice and he showed he can run on it. (Jockey) E. T. Baird has been really helpful and felt really good about him going in,” she stated.

“They (Windy Hill Farm) have been hoping he would run on grass this year. They wanted to run him here at Arlington and were hoping to have him in the (Grade I $1,000,000 Arlington) Million (on Aug. 17). We’ll also look at the (Grade III $150,000) Washington Park Handicap (on Aug. 31). That race looks like a good fit.”

The Washington Park Handicap is run on the Polytrack main course at Arlington, a surface upon which Nates Mineshaft raced well in defeat in his previous start – losing in a dogfight to Midwest Thoroughbreds’ stakes winning P D Q Kiddo. “That race definitely helped him. It took him a little bit to recover from that race. He came out of yesterday’s race alright and looks like he’s recovering faster than last time.”

Despite the win, Smith wants and expects to see even more improvement out of the 6-year-old. “I am not too comfortable seeing him win in a tight photo like that. I am used to seeing him draw off and win by open lengths and set track records. It may have been a combination of being a little tired and that E. T. was taking care of him,” the trainer explained of the head victory under a strong hand ride over Stone Farm’s multiple graded stakes-placed gelding Trend. “A firmer turf course or running on the Polytrack may help him, too. He might be better – at least on paper – on the dirt, but he’ll run on anything, it seems. He’s just a good horse.”

As far as the future, Smith is not too worried about which race the owners ultimately choose, as she is very happy with how Nates Mineshaft has developed. “Now that I’ve had him in my program longer and had my hands on him, I feel like he’s coming back to himself. He is recovering more quickly from his works and races and he’s very happy,” Smith said with satisfaction.

Smith, herself, seems to be mirroring her equine luminary, as she is now off the schneid in 18 starts in 2013. “It was nice to get that one on paper, especially with ‘Nate’. I’m really happy.” she said of her fifth win in 43 career starts since her November launch. “Now, I have a bunch of 2-year-olds I haven’t started yet to focus on, too, who have to let me know if they like their job.” Come the month of November, she may be smiling even wider if her Arlington-based star with proven national class and her apparently effective training program both keep progressing toward a year-belated date with the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships.

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