09/07/2003 11:00PM

Perfect Drift to face Congaree

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The 10th running of the Kentucky Cup may be the deepest yet. Four of the five races in the series, to be run Saturday at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., are shaping up with large fields, while the remaining race is expected to feature a showdown between Congaree and Perfect Drift.

The $350,000 Kentucky Cup Classic, which is the richest race in the series, was supposed to be an easy spot for Congaree, the Bob Baffert-trained star who is widely regarded as one of the top handicap runners in North America. But trainer Murray Johnson on Monday confirmed Perfect Drift as definite for the Classic, giving the 1 1/8-mile race decidedly greater fan appeal.

Johnson, based at the Trackside training center in Louisville, said he is seriously considering both the Kentucky Cup and the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup two weeks later. Johnson said he and Dr. William Reed, who bred and owns Perfect Drift, definitely will not run the gelding in the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic.

"Between these next two races, that's $1.1 million in purses," Johnson said. "Obviously it depends on what happens Saturday, but we hope we can run right back in Chicago. We're in a different position than a lot of the other horses are. We're not having to make all our decisions around the Breeders' Cup."

Congaree, who is scheduled to arrive Thursday afternoon at Turfway following a flight from Ontario, Calif., to Lexington, Ky., will be ridden by Edgar Prado in the Grade 2 Classic. Pat Day will be aboard Perfect Drift.

The Classic is run under handicap conditions, with Congaree having been assigned 124 pounds, four more than Perfect Drift.

Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman said the matchup of Congaree and Perfect Drift most likely will limit the field size for the Classic. Although several horses are possible starters, as of Monday the only other probables were Crafty Shaw, 115, and M B Sea, 113.

Meanwhile, fields will be much bigger for the other Kentucky Cup races. In those races:

* A full field of 12 could start in the Grade 3, $175,000 Turfway Breeders' Cup, as the connections of 13 fillies and mares have expressed interest in the 1 1/16-mile race. Smok'n Frolic, expected to arrive Thursday evening following a flight from New York, is the probable favorite for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Other probables include Awesome Humor, Country Romance, Desert Gold, Mayo on the Side, and Win's Fair Lady.

* Offlee Wild and Champali are the most notable names for the Grade 3, $100,000 Kentucky Cup Sprint, which typically produces a starter or two for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. At least 10 3-year-olds are likely, including Cat Genius, Clock Stopper, Coach Jimi Lee, and Skeet.

* Baffert will be represented by Consecrate in the Grade 3, $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile, which the trainer won in recent years with Point Given (2000) and Vindication (2002). Wehrman estimated there will be nine or 10 starters for the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile, including at least one from the barn of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who nominated five 2-year-olds to the race.

* Everyday Angel, a romping maiden winner at Saratoga last month, and Sweet Jo Jo, winner of the Ellis Debutante, are among 10 or 11 2-year-old fillies likely to run in the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies. Baffert intends to run Class Above in the one-mile race.

Live television coverage of the Kentucky Cup will be provided by Fox Sports Net and Television Games Network. Entries for all five races will be drawn Thursday at a press breakfast at the track.

Admission will be free to the Kentucky Cup for the first time.