09/11/2003 11:00PM

It's Perfect Soul's turn to shine

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PHOENIX - For the most part, Perfect Soul has been confined to the shadows. A 5-year-old son of Sadler's Wells, Perfect Soul is enormously talented, but hasn't taken advantage of his opportunities to break through on the international stage.

Sunday's Grade 1 Atto Mile, held at Perfect Soul's home base of Woodbine, gives him a chance to come out into the spotlight.

Things got off to a wonderful start for Perfect Soul, trained by Roger Attfield. He didn't debut until halfway through his 4-year-old year, but made it worth the wait. He rattled off three straight strong wins, then in his first stakes, the Grade 1 Niagara Breeders' Cup Handicap at Woodbine, he was a strong second.

He looked ready for the big time. Attfield sent him into the Grade 1 Canadian International, but he could fare no better than fourth, beaten handily by top-class runners Ballingarry and Falcon Flight. Surely, Perfect Soul was giving away a lot of seasoning, but he finished last of eight in the Breeders' Cup Turf, then again a poor eighth in Calder's Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap. Maybe there was a more logical explanation: that Perfect Soul just wasn't that good.

But Attfield regrouped, and Perfect Soul stormed back this year. He romped by five-plus lengths in an allowance race at Keeneland, then ran second to the sharp Dr. Brendler in Pimlico's Grade 2 Dixie on the Preakness undercard. Perfect Soul seemed on the verge of the big breakout again, and when he romped by more than two lengths in the Grade 2 King Edward at Woodbine on June 15, with a 106 Beyer, it looked like his time had come.

But in the Grade 2 Chinese Cultural Centre at Woodbine he had another setback. He made a strong move to take the lead in midstretch in the 11-furlong race, but couldn't fend off another very classy Canadian, Strut the Stage. That loss may have been the first indication Perfect Soul had distance limitations, at least at the top level.

When he shipped to Chicago for the Grade 1 Arlington Million last month, Perfect Soul came in under the radar. Sent off at 16-1 against such Grade 1 performers as Storming Home, Sulamani, The Tin Man, Paolini, Kaeiteur, and Olden Times, Perfect Soul swept to the lead turning for home. With all the talk about the rodeo at the end of the Arlington Million, it was lost on most that Perfect Soul kept to his task and lost by less than a length while finishing fifth. That race confirmed that Perfect Soul was capable of running with the best in the world, but not necessarily at 10 furlongs, which is just a smidge out of his range.

That isn't the case in Sunday's Atto Mile. Perfect Soul has the style to be a top miler. And in the Atto, he is back in his backyard, on a turf course he loves.

It also won't hurt that there's a ton of speed signed up for the Atto, including Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando, 2001 Atto Mile winner Numerous Times, Canadian champion sprinter Wake at Noon, 2002 Atto Mile runner-up Chopinina, and the red-hot Soaring Free. That likely will lead to a contested pace and a stretched-out field, a situation ripe for the plucking for a closer.

The combination of stretched-out field and Woodbine's wide course should mean Perfect Soul can find room when he needs to make his move.

There's still some major talent Perfect Soul must face. Wando won the Canadian Triple Crown this summer in dazzling fashion, but Sunday's race is his first time vs. older horses and he's cutting back from a 12-furlong race. Sarafan and Touch of the Blues are Neil Drysdale-trained closers who both have a ton of class. But no one in this field is going to remind you of Storming Home or Sulamani.

Perfect Soul's morning-line odds are 6-1. The price figures to remain in that range, what with Wando and the Drysdale duo taking money.

It's Perfect Soul's chance to shine on Sunday.

Perfect Soul is my key horse. I will play him to win, then key him in exactas and trifectas over Sarafan, Touch of the Blues, Wando, Chopinina, and Soaring Free.