Updated on 09/17/2011 11:33AM

Johnson changes tune a bit as Perfect Drift may be in picture after all


The strong aversion trainer Murray Johnson had expressed toward running Perfect Drift in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic has softened noticeably since Perfect Drift won Sunday's Hawthorne Gold Cup. So much so, in fact, that Johnson on Wednesday said Perfect Drift is now under serious consideration for the Oct. 25 race at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

"He's won the Hawthorne Gold Cup and Kentucky Cup Classic, and in the meantime about four of the top choices have dropped out," Johnson said from Kentucky. "He's not only winning, but winning in hand, and the races aren't taking a lot out of him. He came out of Sunday's race in great shape.

"He had two races in two weeks. I figured you'd see signs of a tired horse, and maybe that would be a reason not to go to the Breeders' Cup, but instead it seems like he's starting to reach his peak, and any time you might be favored in a race, you have to look."

Johnson said the absence of Candy Ride, Empire Maker, and Funny Cide, along with the possible defection of Mineshaft, contributed to the change in philosophy. Johnson is still upset, though, that the Breeders' Cup entry and starting fees were increased 50 percent this year for horses previously nominated to the Breeders' Cup. Last year, those fees for the Classic totaled $80,000. This year, they are $120,000.

"We've gone from maybe being the fifth choice and putting up $120,000, and maybe not getting any of that back, to maybe being the choice," Johnson said. "He's completed his last two races - in fact, his last three or four on dirt - in tremendous style. His last two races, he's never been hit."

Johnson said the presence of Mineshaft would not alter his plans. Perfect Drift beat Mineshaft in the Stephen Foster Handicap earlier this year. "We'll take him on again if we have to," Johnson said. "If he jumps in at the end, it wouldn't scare us away."

Johnson said he wanted to make sure "the whole team was for it," including jockey Pat Day, and Dr. William Reed, whose Stonecrest Farm bred and owns Perfect Drift.

"We're not saying we're going, but the chances have improved significantly," Johnson said.

If Perfect Drift were to win the Classic, he would have a terrific chance at being named Horse of the Year.

"It doesn't put any more money in my pocket," Johnson said, laughing, "but it would be great recognition for Dr. Reed and for the horse."

There are three significant prep races for the Classic this weekend. Volponi, the defending champion in the Classic, faces Dynever and four others in Friday's night's Grade 3, $400,000 Meadowlands Cup Handicap. Wando, the Canadian Triple Crown winner, and unbeaten Grand Hombre were among 11 3-year-olds entered Wednesday in Saturday's Grade 3, $400,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park. And at Santa Anita on Saturday, Pleasantly Perfect is scheduled to defend his title in the Grade 2, $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, which will also include Toccet.