09/28/2003 12:00AM

No stopping Perfect Drift


STICKNEY, Ill. - There is no stopping Perfect Drift right now. Two weeks after gliding past Congaree in the Kentucky Cup Classic, Perfect Drift won the by a length and three-quarters over Tenpins, his fourth win in four dirt races this season.

And now the heat intensifies. Perfect Drift's connections, the owner William Reed and the trainer Murray Johnson, steadfastly have maintained that they will pass the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita. But minutes after Sunday's Gold Cup, with rumors abounding that the top handicap horse Mineshaft will skip the Classic, Johnson wavered slightly.

"The reasons for not going are still there, but we're going to look at different things," Johnson said. "Our initial thought was no, so I still doubt it."

Breeders' Cup or not, Perfect Drift has put together an awesome season. A turf experiment in the Arlington Million failed, but Perfect Drift won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster - where he beat Mineshaft by a head - the $400,000 Washington Park Handicap, the $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic - where he beat Congaree by a length - and now the Grade 2, $750,000 Gold Cup.

His race Sunday was vintage Perfect Drift, who is best as a stalker, and gradually wears down his opposition with a relentless sustained run. Tenpins, his ears pricked, bounced out to an easy lead under Robby Albarado, setting a slow pace of 24.50 seconds for a quarter-mile and 49.64 for a half. But Perfect Drift and his jockey, Pat Day, always had him within range. Tenpins led by a half-length a half-mile from the finish, and gradually, as he raced around the far turn, Day let Perfect Drift range up to Tenpins's flank.

"We came off the turn, and Robby was working on Tenpins while I was just cruising," Day said.

Tenpins dug in, and Aeneas ranged up three wide to challenge, but Day put Perfect Drift to a hand ride and surged clear in the final furlong. Perfect Drift was going away at the finish, while Tenpins held off Aeneas by a half-length for second. The slow early pace, and a laboring racetrack, produced a slow final time, 2:03.63 for one and one-quarter miles on a fast main track.

Perfect Drift paid $2.80 to win and triggered a big minus show pool of $133,607.

Day, who rides Perfect Drift with complete confidence, had high praise for his horse. "He's confident, he's happy and he's healthy," he said. "I was really impressed with him the first time I rode him, and I have been every time. Whatever they decide to do with this horse, it'll be right for them, and right for the horse."