Updated on 09/17/2011 10:22PM

BC Classic: Perfect Drift giving it one more try

The under-appreciated Perfect Drift and trainer Murray Johnson aim for BC Classic No. 4.

Ghostzapper, Pleasantly Perfect, and Volponi - the last three winners of the Breeders' Cup Classic - all are done racing, but not Perfect Drift, who chased all of them home and is seeking his fourth straight berth in the $4 million Classic this year at Belmont Park on Oct. 29.

Perfect Drift just might be the most under-appreciated horse in America. He has raced 32 times over nearly four seasons, and has won $3,673,040. He has captured races such as the Stephen Foster Handicap, Hawthorne Gold Cup, and Lane's End Stakes, was second in the Whitney and Pacific Classic, and was third in the Kentucky Derby. He has won on both dirt and turf, going short and long, at distances ranging from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. He has won 11 races with seven different jockeys, and has competed at 12 different tracks. He has recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or more on 21 occasions, and eight times has recorded a fig of 110 or better.

And yet when the best horses of the division are discussed, this hard-knocking, consistent performer frequently is overlooked in favor of the flavor of the month.

Perfect Drift's trainer, Murray Johnson, who has so expertly guided the 6-year-old gelding throughout his career, is hoping to raise Perfect Drift's profile this fall. For the third straight year, Perfect Drift will prep for the Classic in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. But this year, the Grade 2, $750,000 Gold Cup - which will be run on Saturday at Hawthorne - is being run five weeks before the Classic, instead of four, giving him an extra week between starts. And Perfect Drift has been managed with the Classic as a year-end goal, not, as Johnson put it, "an afterthought."

"We've pointed for the Breeders' Cup, instead of having it as an afterthought," Johnson said from Kentucky, where he trains Perfect Drift at the Churchill Downs Trackside facility. "It's been more of a definitive plan. He's much fresher coming into the fall. We've spaced his races better."

Johnson trains Perfect Drift for the Stonecrest Farm of Dr. William A. Reed, a Kansas City surgeon. For the past three years, Perfect Drift has had a winter vacation, where he frolics at Reed's farm in Kansas, then begins racing anew in the spring. In 2003, Perfect Drift had seven starts between April and September, prior to the Classic. Last year, Perfect Drift again had seven starts before the Classic, including starts 15 days apart in the Whitney at Saratoga and Pacific Classic at Del Mar. This year, Perfect Drift has made one start per month in April, May, June, July, and August. Assuming he exits the Gold Cup in good shape, he will head into the Classic with just six races this year.

"I think the mile and a quarter will suit him better than many of the other horses," Johnson said, referring to this year's Classic. "And he doesn't have to run against Ghostzapper, Roses in May, and Pleasantly Perfect."

Those were the first three across the line in last year's Classic. Perfect Drift was fourth, only three-quarters of a length behind Pleasantly Perfect.

Perfect Drift is scheduled to travel to Chicago on Friday. The Gold Cup, according to Johnson, is an ideal prep.

"He's run in the race the last two years. He won it two years ago, and he should have won it last year. It's a nice, long stretch. And it's good money," Johnson said.

Johnson said he also is leery of the new medication rules in Kentucky, which was one reason he bypassed last year's Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park. While applauding the effort to make the sport cleaner, Johnson thinks the fine print of the Kentucky rules is Draconian.

"You can risk a whole lot with nothing to gain," he said. "It's so open to their discretion. They can sink you if they want. I mean, we can't even give a horse bute pills. We have to have a vet put bute pills in their feed. They say there are certain levels at which they are testing for drugs, but they won't tell us the levels. We're guinea pigs for the new rules. It's very discouraging."

In other Classic developments:

* Afleet Alex could have the first workout of his comeback next week, according to trainer Tim Ritchey. "He'll do something over the weekend, like a two-minute clip for five furlongs, and if that goes well he'll breeze next week," Ritchey said. "He's been jogging early in the morning, then galloping a mile and a half. The ankle looks great. There's no filling or heat."

Ritchey said he is nominating Afleet Alex to any stakes between six furlongs and a mile, from Oct. 1 to the 15th, on turf or dirt, anywhere east of the Mississippi River. "I just want to cover our bases. We'll just see where we're at at that point, and which race makes sense to build on and not knock him out."

* Trainer Bob Baffert said that Roman Ruler will likely head to New York for the Grade 1, $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 1, a race that already has attracted fellow California invaders Borrego and Imperialism, as well as Travers winner Flower Alley.

Classic contenders
3-year-olds & up, 1 1/4 miles. Purse: $4 million

1Saint LiamR. Dutrow Jr.8-5
Good, consistent, and though 0 for 1 at distance, he should get the trip
2Lava ManD. O'Neill6-1
If he's really okay after Pacific Classic, he has a big shot to win this
3Rock Hard TenR. Mandella5-1
King of California early in year; his only prep is to be the Goodwood
4Sun KingN. Zito15-1
Anyone who wins from post 14 at Philly Park like he did merits respect
5Flower AlleyT. Pletcher8-1
Travers-Jim Dandy winner may be most improved 3yo in the nation
6Perfect DriftM. Johnson12-1
Doesn't win very often, but he holds good form and loves the distance
7BorregoC. B. Greely15-1
Finally won a big one in Pacific Classic; okay, let's see him do it again
8ImperialismK. Mulhall15-1
Quite possible he may be most effective as a closing sprinter/miler
9Roman RulerB. Baffert12-1
Better than his flat Travers; also may be better at 9 furlongs or less
10Afleet AlexT. Ritchey8-1
Has slim chance to make this, but deserves to be listed, nevertheless
The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.