01/03/2002 12:00AM

Perfect Drift at a crossroads


While Murray Johnson plans to spend another cold winter at the Trackside training complex in Louisville, he still might make it to one of the warmer racing outposts in the next couple of months.

It all depends on how a highly promising 3-year-old named Perfect Drift progresses.

"He's the real deal, no doubt about it," said Johnson, a native of Australia who has been a Kentucky regular for the last decade or so. "He just doesn't have the seasoning right now, so it didn't make sense to take him anywhere."

On Saturday, Perfect Drift will get a chance to show his stuff when he takes on nine other 3-year-olds in the $50,000 Turfway Prevue at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. Johnson, who trained Green Alligator to a fourth-place finish in the 1991 Kentucky Derby, said he fully believes Perfect Drift has the potential to be one of the best horses he has ever trained.

"If he gets beat here, we'll be disappointed, but then that should tell us we shouldn't be thinking about going anywhere else," Johnson said. "Oaklawn Park has the kind of program that would fit him if he can go on." The trainer also mentioned the March 23 Lane's End Spiral at Turfway, "but he's got to take us that way first."

Oaklawn is closer to home for the colt's breeder and owner, Dr. William Reed of Kansas City, Mo. Reed, a prominent heart surgeon, has had horses with Johnson for the last eight years. Perfect Drift, who was narrowly beaten in his career debut at Churchill Downs in November before easily winning a Dec. 19 maiden race at Turfway, is the latest in a series of solid allowance-to-stakes-caliber homebreds to compete under Reed's green, blue, and white silks.

The six-furlong Prevue "looks like another step up for him, but it looks like the right thing to do with him," Johnson said. To prevail, Perfect Drift will likely have to outrun Thunder on Land, World Champion, and Private Horde, all of whom captured first-level allowance races in their most recent appearances.

One potential upsetter is Spicey Marcloud, whose trainer, Larry Demeritte, won the Prevue last year with Daring Pegasus.

The Prevue is the first of several Turfway stakes for 3-year-olds at the winter-spring meet, which runs through April 4. The Presidents and Battaglia Memorial are other stepping-stones to the Spiral.

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