06/30/2004 11:00PM

Good spot to get Perfect Soul going


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Life has proceeded quite imperfectly for Perfect Soul since he captured the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland, but it's nothing that a win Saturday in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap wouldn't solve.

, one of nine older horses entered in the $250,000 Firecracker at Churchill Downs, finished a distant 10th in his only race since the Maker's Mark, then experienced two difficult months with a foot bruise, then a coughing spell. But trainer Roger Attfield has pronounced Perfect Soul ready to race again, and after arriving here Thursday from Canada, Perfect Soul will be the highweight and likely favorite in his specialty, a one-mile race on turf.

Perfect Soul, an earner of more than $1.26 million for breeder-owner Charles Fipke, figures to have Senor Swinger as his primary rival in the Firecracker, the first of three stakes to be run on closing weekend at the 53-day Churchill spring meet. Senor Swinger, a 4-year-old colt trained by Bob Baffert, brings a glitzy local record into the race, prevailing in each of his four starts over the Churchill turf course.

Even lacking such solid credentials, the race shape of the Firecracker would seem to favor the stretch-running styles of both Perfect Soul and Senor Swinger. Several horses with major early speed are part of the cast, most notably Royal Spy, Puget Sound, and Quantum Merit; at least two more, Mr. Krisley and Majestic Thief, also have shown a high turn of speed in recent starts.

The possibility of a pace that is too fast clearly plays to the strengths of the favorites.

Perfect Soul, with Larry Melancon to ride, has swooped to three major triumphs in his last eight starts: the King Edward Breeders' Cup and Shadwell Mile last year, and the Maker's Mark in April.

, who will have Pat Day aboard Saturday, also has been very effective at opportune times, with one caveat: only at Churchill Downs. His four local triumphs - which include the Jefferson Cup last year, and in the Opening Verse over the highly accomplished Hard Buck three weeks ago - would seem to trump his 0-for-7 mark on other turf courses.

The Firecracker is carded as the eighth of 11 Saturday races and is the second leg of the $400,000-guaranteed NTRA National Pick 4. Post time for the Firecracker is set for 4:55 p.m.

Five allowances (races 4, 6, 7, 9, and 10) also are part of a Saturday card that begins at 1:15.