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Alysheba pace may help Perfect Drift
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The racing schedule of
8-year-old Perfect Drift has varied little in recent years. Trainer Murray Johnson has typically begun each year by running the gelding in an allowance race at Keeneland, followed that with a start on grass in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve on Derby Day, and then returned him to dirt for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in mid-June.
This year, he is throwing Perfect Drift a change-up. Following a runner-up finish by Perfect Drift in his seasonal bow at Keeneland on April 14, Johnson bypassed the Woodford Reserve to run Perfect Drift in Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 Alysheba Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile dirt race that also attracted such prominent runners as Half Ours and Wanderin Boy.
Johnson's reasoning was straightforward.
"I thought he'd have a better chance in the Alysheba than the Woodford Reserve," Johnson said.
Even so, the eight-horse Alysheba is no gimme race for Perfect Drift, a Grade 1 winner with earnings in excess of $4.67 million. Half Ours is unbeaten in five starts, and the comebacking Wanderin Boy won the Grade 2 Brooklyn last year.
Working in Perfect Drift's favor is the fact that Half Ours and Wanderin Boy are front-runners, as is Essex winner Jonesboro. Their presence will likely contribute to a quick pace that could benefit a late runner like Perfect Drift.
For the second straight race, Perfect Drift will race with blinkers, an equipment change Johnson made in an effort to keep his horse from losing focus.
Although an 11-time winner from 43 starts, Perfect Drift is winless over his last 12 races. Garrett Gomez rides the gelding, who is owned by William A. Reed's Stonecrest Farm.
Half Ours would be racing two turns for the first time in the Alysheba. He missed a scheduled start in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap on April 7 after undergoing minor eye surgery.
Half Ours and Wanderin Boy have also been entered in the Churchill Downs Handicap, a seven-furlong race on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
Crown Royal: Marcavelly aims to continue form
Consistency in the 3-year-old division isn't limited to the dirt division. Seven of the 11 horses entered in Friday's Grade 3, $150,000 Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs are coming off a win, four in stakes.
A field of 11 was entered in the Crown Royal, but Imawildandcrazyguy will scratch to run in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
Marcavelly, a son of Johannesburg trained by Bill Mott, and Whatsthescript, an Irish-bred son of Royal Applause trained by Doug O'Neill, look like the ones to beat as both were stakes winners at 2 and 3. Marcavelly is 3 for 4 on turf, with his only loss coming to Dreaming of Anna, last year's juvenile filly champion.
Marcavelly came from just off the pace to win the Grade 3 Transylvania at Keeneland under hand urging from Edgar Prado. Mott is not necessarily looking for the horse to run a better race Friday.
"I hope he runs the same one," Mott said.
Whatsthescript began his career in Ireland, but since coming to the United States he is unbeaten in three turf stakes, including a 1 3/4-length score in the Pasadena at Santa Anita on March 10, his first start for O'Neill.
"He's just extremely professional, he's got an amazing turn of foot," O'Neill said. "He didn't have the best of trips last time, but he just exploded late."
Isaias Enriquez will ride Whatsthescript from post 2.
Duveen and Distorted Reality are among those who add depth to this field. Duveen, a son of Horse Chestnut trained by Dale Romans, is coming off a nose victory over Tropical Park Derby winner Soldier's Dancer in the Grade 3 Palm Beach at Gulfstream.
Distorted Reality, a half-brother to the turf sprint stakes winner Atticus Kristy, is 2 for 2 since trainer Todd Pletcher switched him to turf and put blinkers on him. Pletcher believes the surface switch has more to do with his improvement than the equipment change.
- David Grening
Edgewood: Versatility benefits Moonee Ponds
Since stretching out around two turns, Moonee Ponds has won on the dirt and won on the turf. She has won on the lead and rallying from behind. That versatility, combined with her sharp form, makes her the one to beat on Friday as she seeks her fourth straight win in the $150,000-added Edgewood Stakes at Churchill Downs.
The Edgewood, at 1 1/16 miles on turf, drew a field of nine 3-year-old fillies, with Moonee Ponds in the middle. From there, jockey Jamie Theriot should be able to size up the early intentions of his rivals and adjust accordingly.
Moonee Ponds spent the winter at Fair Grounds, where she defeated maidens on dirt before switching to turf and winning twice more. She sat third before rallying to win a first-level allowance, then led from start to finish in the Bedanken Stakes in her last start March 25.
"I think she pretty much inherited the lead last time," her trainer, Tom Proctor, said Wednesday morning. "She was a little more on the muscle than I would have liked. I'd like to see her more relaxed here."
Proctor said he put Moonee Ponds on the turf because "she's by Mizzen Mast."
"Plus, you know, I'm a turf trainer," he said, laughing.
Nola Star should be the main rival to Moonee Ponds. She was a close third in a first-level allowance race at Keeneland in her last start, her first outing in five months. It was her first try on turf, and came over a course that tends to devour front-runners.
Good Mood did not run well last time at Keeneland, but showed promise in a traffic-filled U.S. debut at Santa Anita in December.
Queen of the Ridge could be a pace factor. She was fourth after setting a soft pace in a first-level allowance at Keeneland last time, and is adding blinkers for this.
- Jay Privman
Aegon: Unbridled Sidney challenges the boys
Ronny Werner has seen Unbridled Sidney run a hole through the wind so many times over the Churchill turf course that the veteran trainer couldn't be blamed for trying her against the boys, even off a layoff. And that's exactly what Werner is doing Friday with Unbridled Sidney, who will make her first start in six months when taking on 11 male rivals in the Grade 3, $150,000 Aegon Turf Sprint.
Unbridled Sidney is the turf course record holder at Churchill going five furlongs, the same distance the Aegon field will cover. On July 9, 2005, Unbridled Sidney ran a truly amazing race, virtually flying out of the gate, opening a huge lead, then forgetting to stop, hitting the wire in a rocket-ship time of 55.54 seconds. That was one of four victories the Unbridled's Song mare has registered in just six starts over the Churchill turf - and with one second and one third padding that record, it is no stretch to say she is a horse for the course.
With Robby Albarado to ride, Unbridled Sidney will start from post 5 in the Aegon, which goes as the seventh of 11 Friday races. If she isn't primed for another huge race, the Aegon could fall any number of ways, with her most capable challengers appearing to be Roi Charmant and Ellwood and Jake, a couple of turf pros from California, along with the one-two-three finishers in the recent Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland: The Nth Degree, Congo King, and Sgt. Bert.
- Marty McGee