11/24/2004 12:00AM

Can Perfect Drift get over the hump?

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Saint Liam (right), finishing second to Ghostzapper in the Woodward, comes into Saturday's Clark Handicap off an 11-week break.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Everyone should do so poorly. Perfect Drift hasn't won a race this year, but even if he falls short again Friday in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, he could still go over the million-dollar earnings mark for the year by posting yet another second-place finish.

Of course, trainer Murray Johnson would like nothing more than to see Perfect Drift snap a nine-race losing streak by finishing ahead of his main rival, Saint Liam, and eight other opponents in the $500,000 Clark, the annual fall-meet highlight, which will attract an ontrack crowd approaching 20,000.

"Obviously we'd like to win," said Johnson. "But running second, that's all right with me. As long as the money keeps coming in to pay the bills, that's fine."

The Grade 2 Clark is so deep that it would come as no surprise if Perfect Drift ran second again. Although he has won 9 of his first 17 starts, Perfect Drift's 2004 record speaks to a building frustration: 8 starts, 5 seconds, 1 third, and $891,795 in earnings. Johnson said breaking through with a win in the Clark would make the year a fabulous success.

"He's doing great now, just like he's done well all year," said Johnson. "Same old thing. We'd have stopped on him by now, but the fact he was doing so well, and the fact we'd like him to win one, that put us in the Clark. Heck, the horse himself would probably appreciate a good win."

Saint Liam enters the 1 1/8-mile race in peak shape, according to his trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr.

"I've never seen him doing this good," said Dutrow. "He's doing unbelievable. I am so happy with him. I figure if things go his way in the race, and if he runs his race, he's going to be very, very tough to beat."

Saint Liam, who arrived here Tuesday from New York, has not raced in nearly 11 weeks. In his last race, he earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure when he took Ghostzapper to the wire in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Belmont. Off that neck defeat, Saint Liam will look awfully enticing to many horseplayers, especially since Ghostzapper subsequently won the Breeders' Cup Classic to become the favorite for Horse of the Year.

Although figure as the favorites Friday, the highweight under handicap conditions is Lundy's Liability, a Brazil-bred whose North American debut resulted in a narrow victory in the Oct. 2 Goodwood Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Trained by Bobby Frankel, Lundy's Liability will carry 120 pounds, including David Flores, spotting the rest of the field two to nine pounds.

Another viable Clark candidate is , who stunned the racing world in June when he captured the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at 62-1. The Clark marks the first start for Colonial Colony, a 6-year-old, since breeder-owner Chris Nolan hired Dallas Stewart as the new trainer.

The Clark field also includes three 3-year-olds who have impacted their division this year: Eurosilver, who was one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby before being sidelined by illness; Fantasticat, winner of the Grade 2 Super Derby in September; and Suave, runner-up in the Swaps Stakes and Indiana Derby and a two-time winner over the Churchill main track.

Also in the field are Sir Cherokee, a sharp winner of the Ack Ack on opening day, and the uncoupled duo of Seek Gold and Pies Prospect, whose trainer, Nick Zito, won the Clark last year via disqualification with Quest.

The Clark is carded as the 11th of 12 races on an outstanding Friday card. Among the undercard races are the $70,800 Dream Supreme (race 4), an overnight handicap for fillies and mares; an exceptionally deep allowance for 2-year-olds (race 9), including several colts who were impressive in winning their first starts; and three other allowances (races 5, 7, 8).

The field

Clark Handicap
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

1Colonial ColonyP. Day1168-1
2Saint LiamE. Prado1172-1
3Seek GoldL. Melancon11130-1
4Lundy's LiabilityD. Flores1206-1
5Sir CherokeeB. Blanc11612-1
6SuaveD. Sarvis11312-1
7FantasticatE. Martin Jr.11315-1
8EurosilverJ. Castellano11320-1
9Perfect DriftK. Desormeaux1185-2
10Pies ProspectJ. McKee11230-1

* Odds by Steve Klein