10/01/2002 11:00PM

Perfect Drift back in Indiana Derby


ANDERSON, Ind. - Judging by the number of horses entered for Saturday night's $400,000 Indiana Derby, the race has earned its new Grade 3 status.

A total of 14 horses were entered Wednesday in Hoosier's 1 1/16-mile showcase race, but only 12 were assigned post positions; the other two horses were excluded. Races are normally limited to 10 starters over Hoosier Park's seven-eighth-mile oval but the limit is raised to 12 for stakes.

Perfect Drift, who finished a troubled third in the Kentucky Derby to War Emblem and Proud Citizen and who has not started since finishing 10th in the Belmont, will make his much-anticipated return to the races in the Indiana Derby for trainer Murray Johnson. Jon Court is named to ride from post 3.

Wiseman's Ferry, trained by Niall O'Callaghan, and Easyfromthegitgo, trained by Steve Asmussen, will also start.

Wiseman's Ferry, a strong second to Magic Weisner in the Ohio Derby and the winner of the West Virginia Derby, will be ridden by Jorge Chavez. Easyfromthegitgo, who won the Iowa Derby and who just missed in the Oklahoma Derby, will be teamed with jockey Donnie Meche.

Joey Franco will be making the longest journey of the Derby field as he and rider Kent Desormeaux ship in from California off four straight wins, including the El Cajon in his last start.

Filly stakes on undercard

Fillies are the featured attraction in the two undercard stakes on Friday's 11-race program, the $40,000 Vincennes Stakes for 3-year-old Indiana-bred fillies and the $30,000 City of Anderson for 2-year-old state-bred fillies.

Amanda's Crown will face the up-and-coming sprinter Neeka and nine others in the Vincennes. Amanda's Crown comes off a solid second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in last Saturday's Madison County Stakes against older fillies and mares.

Trained by Stephen Dunn, Amanda's Crown has been beaten by with Maggie's Dream in her last two starts while trying older rivals and will surely appreciate her absence in this spot.

Neeka, a daughter of Bright Launch trained by Robert Zahl, has rattled off three straight wins here and enters off a 3 1/2-length victory over nonwinners-of-three-lifetime allowance company on Monday night. The short turnaround will test her stamina as she faces her stiffest competition to date.

The City of Anderson Stakes brings together a field of 10, eight of whom won maiden races in their last starts.

Hurricane Hebe was a most impressive maiden winner, romping home by 9 1/4 lengths for trainer Ray Stifano at tonight's distance of 5 1/2 furlongs.

Symbol of Freedom has been off since defeating $25,000 maidens at Churchill Downs this summer but should merit respect in this spot.

Miss Dakota, a 10-length winner here Sept. 22, was claimed at Churchill Downs in late June by Michael Lauer and also appears a strong candidate here.

* Advance wagering on the Indiana Derby was scheduled to open Wednesday afternoon shortly after the draw of the race.

* Gates open at 4 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. Saturday festivities will include the Carl Storie Band playing near the paddock area beginning shortly after 4 p.m.