06/16/2003 12:00AM

Perfect Drift aimed at Million, Classic


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Murray Johnson said a few days before the Stephen Foster that he was excited about having Pat Day ride for him for the first time.

That degree of excitement was nothing compared to the overwhelming feeling of joy that Johnson experienced Saturday after Day deftly guided the trainer's stable star, Perfect Drift, to a narrow victory over heavily favored Mineshaft in a dramatic 22nd running of the Grade 1 Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

One close friend said Johnson was so overcome by emotion in the aftermath of the Foster "he could barely even talk." The next day, more composed and more hoarse, Johnson said a whole new world has opened to Perfect Drift, a 4-year-old gelding bred and owned by Dr. William Reed's Stonecrest Farm.

Johnson, a native of Australia, seemed intrigued about the possibility of one day taking Perfect Drift to run somewhere exotic. In the meantime, however, the primary goal is the Aug. 16 Arlington Million, with the likelihood of one prep in the interim. Johnson said he will choose from the July 13 Hollywood Gold Cup or July 19 Washington Park Handicap, both run on dirt, or the July 26 Arlington Handicap on turf.

The long-term goal for the year is the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, but after that, Perfect Drift could go just about anywhere.

"There are other races around the world where they pay you to go rather than having to pay to run," he said. "That's a big factor. He's a gelding, and it's not like we're trying to appeal to the breeding public. We'll just go where the horse wants to go and where he takes us. I wouldn't mind traveling the world with him."

As for Mineshaft, trainer Neil Howard said he was extremely pleased with the colt's effort in defeat. He called Perfect Drift "a very good horse. People forget he finished third in the Kentucky Derby last year, and not like a distant third, either. Plus we were spotting him eight pounds."

Howard theorized that if Mineshaft, who had won six of seven starts in the United States before the Foster, had "finished third or fourth and gotten beat four to six lengths or something, then you'd say he's had a steady campaign and maybe he just didn't run his race and he's tailing off a little bit. But I don't think so."

Howard said he is more likely to have Mineshaft await the Aug. 6 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga than run him back in the July 5 Suburban Handicap at Belmont.

Velasquez appeals suspension

Cornelio Velasquez, who in his first full meet at Churchill rates a terrific chance of being leading rider, has appealed a five-day suspension handed him by the stewards Sunday.

Velasquez was penalized for permitting his mount, Trial By Jury, in the fifth race Saturday to drift in, causing interference with Reverse Psychology, who was eventually elevated to first on the disqualification of Trial By Jury.

"We're not necessarily appealing because of a riding title," agent Richard De Pass said early Monday. "That's about all I want to say."

Until his appeal is heard by the Kentucky Racing Commission, Velasquez can remain active. In many cases, jockeys will drop their appeals and begin serving a suspension when less important dates surface on the racing calendar. In this case, the Churchill meet ends July 6, after which Ellis Park begins a 41-day meet July 9.

Through Sunday, and with 15 of 52 days remaining at the meet, Velasquez led Day by 5 wins, 39-34. Both Day and Robby Albarado, who is third in the standings, rode elsewhere Sunday.

The disqualification of Trial By Jury came only after John McKee, rider of Reverse Psychology, claimed foul for the incident, which occurred in deep stretch. Curiously, there was no stewards' inquiry into the incident.

McKee, who became a journeyman last week after losing his five-pound apprentice allowance, said it was the first time he had ever claimed foul at Churchill.

Sellers wins four

Jockey Shane Sellers enjoyed a memorable afternoon here Sunday when booting home four winners, his highest one-day total since last Nov. 9. Sellers won aboard Runaway Steel ($14) in the first race, Telephone Talker ($12.80) in the fourth, Peacefally ($6.80) in the seventh, and Something Rushing ($5) in the featured ninth. He narrowly missed a fifth win when his mount in the 10th race, Matanzas Creek, finished second by a head.

Beau's Town Aristides highweight

The lone stakes race this weekend is the $100,000 Aristides Handicap, to be run Saturday at 6 1/2 furlongs. Beau's Town, unbeaten in three races this year, all stakes, was scheduled to arrive here Tuesday and will be the starting highweight at 123 pounds in what is expected to be a medium-sized field.

The probables for the Grade 3 Aristides include Pass Rush, 118; Mountain General, 116; Twilight Road, 116; Speed Hunter, 114; Trion Georgia, 114; Strength and Honor, 113; and Devil's Dust, 109.

* With all the high-class action that took place here last weekend, the Wednesday feature is not even an allowance race. Occupying the usual race-9 feature slot is a $31,000 starter allowance for fillies and mares at one mile on turf. Also carded for Wednesday is a $62,500 claiming race for turf sprinters (race 7). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

* Just in time for the warmest part of the meet: Male mutuel clerks have been ordered by Churchill officials to wear white shirts and neckties every day. The new mandate enforces a dress code that was agreed upon in a collective bargaining session "years ago," said Greg Bush, director of operations.

Groused one clerk: "If I'm wearing a tie, does that make you want to come here more often or bet more when you do?"