The notoriously difficult-to-handle Silver Dust finally seems to have mostly figured out what to do in the afternoons; despite acting up in the gate, the gelded 5-year-old son of Tapit captured Saturday's G3 Mineshaft Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths at odds of 5-1. The victory was the first graded win for both the horse and jockey Jack Gilligan. Trainer Bret Calhoun recorded his second winner on the card as Silver Dust completed 1 1/16 miles over the Fair Grounds' fast main track in 1:45.46.
“I was hoping to be third or fourth in the first turn, but we were able to move up when they slowed it down,” Gilligan said. “He took me around there beautifully on the last turn. I just had to keep him busy down the lane.”
Runner-up Harlan Punch was getting out badly on the first turn but rallied well into the stretch for the place; after returning to be unsaddled, the 6-year-old Brad Cox trainee had to be vanned off the track for what appeared to be an issue with his left front leg. Cox later reported that no fractures were detected in Harlan Punch's x-rays.
The Mineshaft was a bit of a boxing match heading into the first turn, as Harlan Punch was getting out badly under jockey Florent Geroux. Geroux started yelling to alert the other riders, as the horse was on the rail and had Silver Dust to his outside and a pair of horses close-up behind him as well.
Gilligan was in the midst of making his way to the outside of the field on Silver Dust and managed to avoid trouble, while Geroux eventually got Harlan Punch to straighten out down the backstretch. That move left Silver Dust three-wide in about fourth position as front-running Flameaway got away with very mild early fractions of :25.93 and :50.74.
Entering the far turn, Silver Dust began to move up on the outside of Flameaway and he moved out to a three-length advantage with another eighth of a mile to run. Harlan Punch had tracked the eventual winner's move through the turn, and was working hard to make up ground in the final stages.
Clear of the other horses, Silver Dust looked in danger of giving up his lead when he started getting out at the sixteenth pole. Gilligan straightened him out then and was able to hold on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Harlan Punch was game in second, while Flameaway held on to finish third. Third Day finished fourth, and G M B Racing's local star and post-time favorite Lone Sailor finished sixth.
Bred in Kentucky by the Don Alberto Corporation, Silver Dust was a $270,000 yearling at the Keeneland September sale before selling to Tom Durant for $510,000 at OBS March. He was briefly on the Kentucky Derby trail as a 3-year-old, but seems to have matured in his 5-year-old season to record his fourth lifetime win from 19 starts. Overall, Silver Dust has earned over $350,000.
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