04/12/2006 11:00PM

Perfect Drift gets his prep

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As Watershed Event edged away from Perfect Drift to win the seventh race Thursday at Keeneland, the connections of the top two finishers were deeply satisfied with the result.

True, Perfect Drift did not win, having finished three-quarters of a length in arrears in the $66,470 turf allowance - but the ends could once again justify the means. Trainer Murray Johnson has made a tradition of starting each campaign for Perfect Drift, now 7 and an earner of more than $4.3 million, in a Keeneland turf race, with the intent of setting up the gelding for a highly productive season in the handicap ranks.

"We sure didn't want to empty him out today," said Johnson, adding that the May 5 Alysheba or May 6 Woodford Reserve, both at Churchill Downs, would be the probable next start for Perfect Drift.

Meanwhile, Ken Ramsey, who owns Watershed Event with his wife, Sarah, said he would strongly consider the Grade 1 Woodford, which would be the first foray into stakes company for the 5-year-old horse.

"We've been known for doing crazier things," he said.

Watershed Event, ridden by Rene Douglas and trained by Dale Romans, returned $14.40 after rallying from last in the field of five for his sixth victory from 19 starts. His previous start had resulted in a win, by disqualification, in a third-level allowance on Feb. 25 at Gulfstream Park.

Charging Indian ready for stakes

Walt Bindner is well aware that Charging Indian might have benefited from the familiar Keeneland rail and speed bias when the 4-year-old colt kept his record perfect with a dominating victory in a Wednesday allowance race. Charging Indian led throughout in defeating six rivals, including the multiple-stakes winner Battle Won.

The pronounced bias "probably didn't hurt, that's true," said Bindner, who trains Charging Indian for breeder-owner Hargus Sexton. "But this is a good horse. We've always known he's a good horse. I guess we'll just have to beat some good horses again to prove it again."

Charging Indian will get that chance on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard when he makes his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap.

Charging Indian, by Indian Charlie, has only started four times primarily because "he's just a big, big animal," said Bindner, a Churchill-based trainer whose biggest career win came almost two years ago with Colonial Colony in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at his home track. "He did have a little injury, too, but mainly it's been a matter of waiting for him to mature."

Charging Indian earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure and finished 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.94. His opponents in the CD 'Cap are likely to include Battle Won, who won the race last year.

Watching, waiting with Sunriver

Sunriver comes off a deceptively good third-place finish in the Florida Derby, a performance that might make him a live longshot in the Kentucky Derby on May 6. But because his graded-stakes earnings currently have him on the outside looking in, trainer Todd Pletcher is considering running Sunriver in the Grade 2, $325,000 Lexington Stakes on April 22 at Keeneland.

The conundrum for Pletcher is that he believes Sunriver would give his best effort in the Derby if he did not race between now and then. But he does not want to risk Sunriver being excluded from the field if more than 20 horses are entered in the Derby.

"Right now, what I would like to do with him is run him in the Kentucky Derby," Pletcher said. "I thought he ran enough in the Florida Derby. I think he's an improving horse. We're obviously watching his earnings status closely. Sometime after [Saturday], I have to make a decision. Right now, it looks like he's right on the bubble."

Among the others being considered for the Lexington are Like Now, Music School, Sam's Ace, and Showing Up.

Colt a Wilkes-Nafzger production

Court Folly, one of the Blue Grass longshots, might be just one big effort away from taking Ian Wilkes into the limelight that his longtime boss, Carl Nafzger, has enjoyed for so long.

Wilkes and his wife, Tracey, both came from their native Australia to work for Nafzger in 1989, the year before Nafzger won the Kentucky Derby with Unbridled. In certain respects, Ian Wilkes, 40, still works for Nafzger, who turned over most of his sizable stable to Wilkes several months ago while retaining just a handful of horses that still race in his name.

"Really, nothing's changed about the working relationship we have except for my name's on the program," said Wilkes. "Everything's pretty much interchangeable with Carl and me."

Wilkes said he is not yet thinking about the Derby for Court Folly, who was third in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream in his last start.

"Let's see how he handles the two turns and the company before we even go there," he said.

Nafzger is the co-breeder of Court Folly with Bob Manfuso, the former Laurel Park co-owner who heads the partnership that owns the Royal Academy colt.

* Randall Toups, the 16-year-old apprentice who won 11 races before being injured at the winter meet at Aqueduct, is scheduled to return to riding before the end of the Keeneland meet, said agent Julio Espinoza. Toups suffered a fractured lower lumbar vertebra and a mild concussion in a Feb. 16 race at Aqueduct.

* Strength and Honor, a 7-year-old gelding with nine wins and nearly $340,000 in earnings, has been retired with a variety of nagging ailments, said trainer Chuck Simon. Owned by Roger and Kim Schipke's Requiem Racing, Strength and Honor did his finest work at Churchill, where he won six times, including the Distorted Humor Handicap at the last two fall meets.

* There will be no racing Sunday at Keeneland because of the Easter holiday. Entries for the Wednesday program will be drawn Monday, one day later than normal.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman