08/20/2004 12:00AM

Not the time to give up on Perfect Drift


Not the time to give up on Perfect Drift

PHOENIX - I've watched a lot of races, and I can tell you for certain that if you had asked me to wager at the eighth pole of the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap a few weeks ago, I would have gone "all in" on Perfect Drift. Thank goodness such an opportunity did not present itself, as Roses in May re-rallied after being passed and beat Perfect Drift.

But Perfect Drift finds an opportunity for redemption. Sunday's Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar provides him not only a chance for his first win of the year, but to repair what seems to be a bit of a tarnished image. He is 0 for 5 this year, but it's not for lack of effort.

You can be forgiving about his 2004 debut, which was on the turf in the Maker's Mark at Keeneland in early April. That was followed by a so-so run in the Alysheba at Churchill, where he lost to the unheralded Congrats. That race looked like a great set-up for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster June 12, again at Churchill. Perfect Drift, however, didn't see things that way. He ran third and was beaten five lengths by upstart Colonial Colony while finishing ahead of such handicap division stalwarts as Peace Rules and Midway Road.

Certainly there was no need to hit the panic button, and when Perfect Drift showed up in the July 3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows, he was the overwhelming favorite at 4-5. He looked a huge threat in the lane but couldn't overtake speedster Roses in May. This sent him into the Whitney Handicap a loser, but again highly regarded.

Well, you saw what happened. Roses in May chased insane splits, while Perfect Drift ran near the back of the pack. Roses in May appeared to be in trouble turning into the lane, while Perfect Drift cruised up powerfully under Pat Day, looking as though he was going to win for fun. But Roses in May held off Perfect Drift, leaving many to wonder if Perfect Drift had lost that killer instinct.

The good news for his backers, however, is that while he's winless this year, Perfect Drift is still firing, and in fact doesn't seem to have lost much. His four dirt Beyers this year are on a nice upward spiral - 97, 102, 110, and 113. Last year, when seemingly at his peak, he wasn't running much faster. He tossed a 117 in when he edged Mineshaft in the Stephen Foster, but otherwise his two best figures were 112's. His losses may simply be a case of being in the wrong spot at the wrong time. In each of his four dirt losses he's run into a horse who ran the best race of his life.

In Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic, it may be his turn. It's a big thumbs-up from trainer Murray Johnson just to ship to Del Mar to take on BC Classic champ Pleasantly Perfect and the unbeaten Choctaw Nation. It would have been easy for Johnson to wait another few weeks and go in Turfway's Kentucky Cup Classic. This move is a sign the horse is doing well, and the recent loss by Pleasantly Perfect may mean now's the time to take this guy on.

Juvenile stars aplenty

It's an enormously promising start to the juvenile season. There's Roman Ruler out West, who reminded me of Officer the way he romped in the Grade 2 Best Pal, and I also believe the Best Pal runner-up, Actxecutive, has the right look. Both are trained by Bob Baffert.

Back East, Afleet Alex is no secret off his monster Sanford win, and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Consolidator, who chased Afleet Alex in the Sanford, looks like a grinder in the mold of Thunder Gulch.

Last weekend also saw the highly anticipated debut of Scipion, little brother to BC Juvenile winner and champion juvenile Vindication, and it was something to behold.

Scipion, trained by Patrick Biancone of Lion Heart fame, broke slowly, and after about a quarter-mile backed out of the race as if he were going to be eased. He was still only a blip on the radar turning for home, but swung out and unleashed a monstrous run to get up for a deceptively easy win. The downside? The Beyer was a paltry 64, but this may be one of those cases where figs don't do the effort justice.