08/22/2004 11:00PM

May the best horse win

Pleasantly Perfect wins the Pacific Classic on Saturday. A win in the BC Classic could secure top honors for him.

DEL MAR, Calif. - With victories in the last 10 months in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Dubai World Cup, and Pacific Classic, Pleasantly Perfect has gone halfway around the world and back to prove his merit. His victory Sunday at Del Mar secured his position as the most accomplished older horse in the country and puts him squarely in the thick of the battle for Horse of the Year, which he can secure with a repeat victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

That is likely to be his next, and perhaps final, start. Richard Mandella, who trains Pleasantly Perfect, on Monday morning said he intended to train Pleasantly Perfect straight into the Breeders' Cup, rather than prep in a race such as the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap on Oct. 2 during Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

A 6-year-old, Pleasantly Perfect used the Goodwood last year as his final start before the Classic, but his schedule was quite different in 2003. Pleasantly Perfect returned from a seven-month layoff to win last year's Goodwood. This year, he has raced twice since returning from Dubai.

"He needed the race last year. He had been off," Mandella said. "If it was in the spring of the year, I'd probably be looking for a spot to run. But this time of year, you're facing hot weather. You could knock a horse out. That would be the concern."

Pleasantly Perfect earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 111 for his victory in the Pacific Classic. It was an improved performance over the Aug. 1 San Diego Handicap, in which Pleasantly Perfect finished third following a four-month absence. Mandella says he believes Pleasantly Perfect is capable of better. But win or lose come Oct. 30, Mandella says Pleasantly Perfect has accomplished enough to be Horse of the Year.

"I think so, but I'm prejudiced," Mandella said. "I kind of hate answering a question like that, but if that costs him Horse of the Year, then I'll say it. For a horse to do what he's done, it takes a lot of horse. I wouldn't take anything away from Smarty Jones, but this horse won the Breeders' Cup Classic, had a break, won in Dubai, then had a break and came back and won this."

For Mandella, the Pacific Classic was his first victory of the meet. But he said the relief of that personal accomplishment paled in comparison to the stress he felt training the best horse in the world.

"I had no fun, until it was over. It's a big responsibility," Mandella said. "To get him up to be the horse of the world, and then to [mess] that up, would be disgusting in my mind. I take responsibility that I went at it wrong in the San Diego and he got beat. Most wouldn't come around in three weeks, but he's got a good enough mind that you can do it."

Perfect Drift, who finished one length behind Pleasantly Perfect in second, will head back to Kentucky to prepare for the fall with trainer Murray Johnson. Perfect Drift finished sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic after encountering severe traffic trouble heading into the first turn.

Johnson was gratified Perfect Drift ran so well only 14 days after competing in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, but the loss meant Johnson is still winless for the year.

"Everything went fine. We just got outrun by a better horse. Last year we beat the Horse of the Year," Johnson said, referring to Mineshaft. "Maybe we just lost to the Horse of the Year.

"I had a great week here," he said. "We made enough to keep the groceries in the cupboard. When I do get that winner, I will be the leading trainer in earnings per win - if I get the win."

There were two other significant races for older horses run over the weekend. On Saturday, Ghostzapper successfully stretched out around two turns and, benefiting from a sloppy track he obviously craved, got a monstrous Beyer Speed Figure of 128 in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park. And on Sunday, Evening Attire received a Beyer figure of 114 for his victory over Funny Cide in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Ghostzapper, said races under consideration for Ghostzapper include the Woodward Handicap at Belmont Park on Sept. 11, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 2.

"Maybe I could wait for the Jockey Club Gold Cup," Frankel said. "Even though he didn't have to run that hard, you never know how much it takes out of them."

If Ghostzapper waits until the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Frankel said he would run Peace Rules in the Woodward.

Pat Kelly, who trains Evening Attire, said Sunday's victory earned Evening Attire another try against the division's elite.

"I was actually considering second-tier stuff for him before Sunday, because he had slowed down a little bit until yesterday," Kelly said.

Kelly said Evening Attire would likely run next in the Jockey Club Gold Cup or the Oct. 8 Meadowlands Cup. He is now 5 for 8 at Saratoga.

Bowman's Band, who was third at Saratoga, is being pointed to the Meadowlands Cup, which he won last year.

Barclay Tagg, the trainer of second-place finisher Funny Cide, said he had yet to decide where Funny Cide would race next.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Karen M. Johnson