09/14/2003 11:00PM

'Drift' belongs in BC


NEW YORK - In the aftermath of this weekend's stakes races, there are a few situations in which you have to pose the question, " How could you not. . . ?" For example:

How could you not point Perfect Drift to the Breeders' Cup Classic? Murray Johnson, the trainer of Perfect Drift, was as adamant about his position after his horse impressively won Saturday's Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park as he was going in. He is not going to run Perfect Drift in the Breeders' Cup.

Some of Johnson's reasons are that Perfect Drift is a gelding, so there are no benefits from a breeding standpoint to a victory in the Breeders' Cup, and he says if he is prudent with the way he spots his horse, Perfect Drift can provide him with many years of big performances in other lucrative races. Also, Johnson has noted that the combined purses of the Kentucky Cup Classic, and the Hawthorne Gold Cup, which Perfect Drift is scheduled to start in a week from this Saturday, are $1.1 million. That, Johnson says, is his Breeders' Cup.

All of this may be true, but Johnson's position still amazes. First, Perfect Drift has more license than a lot of others to be in the gate for the Breeders' Cup Classic. He upset Mineshaft, who is the best horse in the East, at the very least, in the Stephen Foster in June, and on Saturday, he totally mastered Congaree. Congaree was no worse than the fourth-best older horse in the nation behind Mineshaft, Candy Ride, and Medaglia d'Oro, yet Perfect Drift absolutely toyed with him, beating him by a length, a margin that just as easily could have been six lengths.

The last I looked, geldings are allowed to compete in the Breeders' Cup, and the $1.1 million of the combined purses of the Kentucky Cup Classic and Hawthorne Gold Cup is still only 28 percent of the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic purse.

But, the reason why Johnson should reconsider not going to the Breeders' Cup is that all racehorses, geldings included, can go wrong literally overnight. No one wishes this on any horse, but it's true. Johnson may be dreaming of winning big races with Perfect Drift several years from now, but Perfect Drift is Breeders' Cup Classic-good right now, and there is no guarantee that will always be the case. Even if Perfect Drift does remain healthy, he is a 4-year-old. How many more years can he realistically be expected to perform at the level he is performing at now?

How could you not supplement Wild Spirit to the Breeders' Cup Distaff?

While no official decision has been made yet, it is obvious her people are leaning toward not running her. After Wild Spirit romped in Saturday's Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park, her trainer, Bobby Frankel, said she would start next in Beldame Stakes on Oct. 5. Frankel also said that if Wild Spirit won the Beldame, why would he want to put up all that money to run in the Breeders' Cup?

All that money is $400,000, which is a huge nut to make Wild Spirit eligible to participate in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. Although the Breeders' Cup has made improvements in the supplemental procedure (if Wild Spirit were to be supplemented to this Breeders' Cup, she could start in any future Breeders' Cup races of equal or lesser value at no additional charge), this has been the Achilles' heel of the Breeders' Cup since its inception.

The fees to supplement to the Breeders' Cup are almost criminally exorbitant, and as great as the Breeders' Cup is, it can't be a complete and true championship of racing if it encourages the exclusion of some championship caliber horses by requiring their connections to pay an outrageous amount of money to compete.

On the other hand, if Frankel is asking what it would prove for Wild Spirit's people to put up all that money, then this should also be known: If Wild Spirit isn't supplemented to the Distaff, then her connections concede all claims to a divisional championship, even if she wins the Beldame by 30 lengths. Wild Spirit is a serious contender for a divisional title. The 110 Beyer Speed Figure she earned in her runaway score in the Delaware Handicap is a touch higher than any number Azeri has earned this year. Her only loss was a narrow defeat in Saratoga's Personal Ensign when there was a strong suspicion the others in her barn were sick, and she ran away with the Ruffian despite confirmation that there is illness in her barn.

But, Wild Spirit cannot be champion unless she beats defending Horse of the Year and divisional champion Azeri, and the only race she can do that in is the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

How could you not make the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies the goal for Class Above?

With the way she ran winning the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies, it is very hard not to run her in the Juvenile Fillies. In what was easily the most impressive performance on the Kentucky Cup card aside from Perfect Drift's, Class Above just demolished her field, winning by 16 lengths to improve her record to 2 for 2.

There is, however, a valid reason for thinking about looking at other races besides the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, even with a filly as exciting as Class Above. You wouldn't want a filly like Class Above to risk having her heart and spirit snapped just when she is thinking she has the world on a string. And that could happen in the Breeders' Cup, and only one word is necessary to explain why: Halfbridled.