09/30/2004 12:00AM

Gold Cup all Perfect Drift


CHICAGO - The wheel has made a full revolution, and Perfect Drift is back in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. He runs like one of the best horses in the country, and has earned more than a half-million dollars this year, but Perfect Drift has been shut out in seven starts since an easy score in the 2003 Gold Cup. His trainer, Murray Johnson, is just as cold, with no wins from 62 starters this year.

Both streaks should end Saturday on Chicago's southwest side. Perfect Drift squares off against six opponents in the Grade 2, $750,000 Gold Cup, and barring a Bobby Frankel upset with the unproven Powerful Touch, Perfect Drift wins again.

There are no Pleasantly Perfects in this race, no Roses in Mays, and those are the only two that have beaten Perfect Drift in his last three races. , in Johnson's view, has improved since last season, when he won five times in eight tries. His losses this year have more to do with the company he's kept.

"He's probably gotten a little better every year he's raced," said Johnson, who is based at the Trackside training center a few miles down the road from Churchill Downs. "Last year, we ran him more in Grade 2's and races like that. This year, we stepped up to the top level."

It's true. Perfect Drift has run in Grade 1's three of his last four starts. When he dropped down to try the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap, he hooked Roses in May, the same horse that beat him a nose in the Grade 1 Whitney on Aug. 7 at Saratoga. Just 15 days later, Perfect Drift, Johnson, and owner William Reed of Kansas City were at Del Mar for the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. The result was another second, this one to Pleasantly Perfect, maybe the best dirt horse anywhere.

Johnson steers talk of Perfect Drift's losing streak into the realm of the positive. No, he's not at all disappointed with this season. "He took us to Saratoga, he took us to Del Mar - what could be better than that?" he said.

And Johnson, who won 14 races each of the past three years, sees his own losing streak through a similarly down-to-earth lens.

"It's just tough luck," he said. "I've seen other people go through it with better horses than I have. I don't have that many, and if I drop one down too low to get a win, and I lose it, that's one less to train. We're not going to give them away just to get a win."

Johnson is a native Australian, a longtime horseman who has gone through difficult spells before, usually without a "big horse" to see him through. He sounds nearly reverential talking about Perfect Drift, who has been going strong since November 2001.

"He's a strange horse," said Johnson. "He's a very dominant horse in his personality. He doesn't mind being around other horses, but he's very dominant with people. He has this thing that when he's in his stall, that's his domain. Within his routine, you can do what you need to with him, but outside of his routine, that's his time. He's incredibly smart. It's all a game to him. He's hurt a couple people, but not out of malice. He's just such an incredibly strong animal."

Perfect Drift, to be ridden by Pat Day, travels by van on Friday. Thursday, the Frankel-trained Powerful Touch and Kissin Saint, a longshot, were on the way from New York. Also entered were Caiman, Freefourinternet, Quest Star, and Sonic West.

Powerful Touch, who will carry 113 pounds and receive an eight-pound break from Perfect Drift, figures to be the strong second choice, though his only stakes start in a 10-race career came in the Holy Bull Stakes 20 months ago. Powerful Touch, who has tactical speed, does boast three straight allowance wins on the New York circuit. Local rider Carlos Marquez Jr. has the mount.

Mymich may do it again

Bettors keep overlooking Mymich, a 4-year-old grass filly trained by Tony Reinstedler, and she should offer playable odds again Saturday in the $100,000 Indian Maid Handicap, Hawthorne's supporting stakes on Gold Cup Day.

Ten females were entered in the Indian Maid, a 1 1/16-mile grass race worth $100,000 with a $50,000 Breeders' Cup supplement.

Mymich was almost 7-1 when she won the Sept. 12 Flawlessly, an Arlington overnight stakes race of a quality similar to the Indian Maid's. She has tactical speed to stay in touch with the pace, a good style for the Hawthorne grass course.

Beret, fifth in the Dade Turf Classic last out at Ellis Park, is taking at least a slight drop in class, and she too should be a factor in the Indian Maid.