07/25/2008 11:00PM

Perfect Drift at crossroads


DEL MAR, Calif. - At 9, with career earnings of $4,699,321 and seven stakes wins, Perfect Drift has nothing left to prove. That makes his performance in Monday's seventh race at Del Mar all the more important.

In two starts this year, Perfect Drift has shown mixed results. He finished a decent fourth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on turf at Hollywood Park on May 26, but was eighth of nine in the Hollywood Gold Cup on the main track on June 28. Another poor performance could lead to a reevaluation of Perfect Drift's career by owner William Reed and trainer Richard Mandella.

"We don't want to do it to entertain ourselves," Mandella said of Perfect Drift's campaign. "But he enjoys himself. He ran so good in the Shoemaker. I want to get back to the better side of what I've done."

Perfect Drift, who was third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, has lost his last 17 starts, since the Grade 2 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park in 2005. He was trained at the time by Murray Johnson. Mandella began training Perfect Drift last fall.

Perfect Drift has drawn post 10 on Monday. "There are some very nice horses in there," Mandella said.

The race is over 1 1/16 miles on turf, a distance Mandella thinks will suit the gelding.

"I think he's better up to a mile and an eighth," Mandella said.

Tiago has workout cut short

Tiago, the winner of the Oaklawn Handicap earlier this year, was pulled up shortly after the start of a workout at Del Mar on Saturday. Trainer John Shirreffs later said that Tiago has been plagued by sore feet since arriving from Hollywood Park earlier this month.

The abandoned workout jeopardizes Tiago's expected start in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 24.

"His feet have been stinging him," Shirreffs said. "He gallops okay, but I don't know if he likes the track."

Jockey Mike Smith was aboard Tiago during the solo workout. Shortly after starting near the half-mile pole, Tiago began to drift out. Smith pulled up Tiago near the three-eighths pole. A winner of 5 of 15 starts and $1,734,270 for breeders Jerry and Ann Moss, Tiago was sixth in the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start.

Shortly before Tiago was on the track, Zenyatta, the nation's leading older female, breezed five furlongs in 1:01, preparing for a start in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap on Saturday.

Zenyatta worked in company with a stablemate, starting three lengths behind. She drew alongside the workmate at the eighth pole and finished a length in front. Of the 158 horses with recorded workouts on Saturday, she was one of two who received a breezing designation, indicating that she was far from full speed.

Owned by the Mosses, Zenyatta is unbeaten in six starts with earnings of $734,500.

"I don't think she could be doing any better," Shirreffs said.

One Union goes gate to wire

Friday morning, with a little less than 12 hours to post for the $92,610 Wickerr Handicap, Mandella thought the best strategy for One Union was to come from behind. He changed his mind when he saw the 5-year-old horse in the paddock.

"We were in the paddock and it took two guys to hold him down," he said.

Jockey Victor Espinoza was told by Mandella to "do what comes up" in the one-mile turf race. Espinoza took One Union to the front, set a decent pace of 23.06 and 46.82 seconds, and had enough left to hold off four rivals to win by a nose over Awesome Gem. The first five finishers - including Dark Islander, Worldly and Stoneside, who finished third through fifth - were separated by noses.

"He had pressure from all sides and showed a little heart," Mandella said.

The Wickerr was One Union's first stakes win and his fourth win in 13 starts. Owned by Herman Sarkowsky, One Union has earned $219,913. He is a candidate for the $400,000 Del Mar Mile on turf on Aug. 24.

Runner-up Awesome Gem is bound for the Pacific Classic. Third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, Awesome Gem was last of 10 with a quarter-mile remaining in the Wickerr, and made up 5 1/2 lengths to just miss.

"It was nice to see him come back and show his old self again," trainer Craig Dollase said. "I wanted to see him do what he did."

Track maintenance being fine-tuned

Del Mar will conduct less maintenance on its main track on Tuesday, the only dark day of the week, according to Jim Pendergest, the general manager of Martin Collins, the company that installed the Polytrack synthetic surface in early 2007.

Last week, the surface was power-harrowed, to loosen the material, and roto-tilled, to remix the components of the Polytrack, according to Pendergest. This week, the track will be only power-harrowed, he said on Saturday.

After last week's maintenance, the surface played slow on Wednesday. Pendergest said with a reduced maintenance routine the course would not be significantly different this Wednesday. Pendergest said the surface will be roto-tilled every three weeks during the meeting, which ends on Sept. 3.

"I think it will be quicker on Wednesday than it was" last week, he said. "We learned a couple of things with what we did on Tuesday. It will be a notch slower on Wednesday than the rest of the week."

The track has been more consistent this year than last year, when the surface produced fast times in the mornings and slow times in the afternoon. This year, the surface has been more uniform.

"We want to see consistency from day to day," Pendergest said.