09/23/2003 11:00PM

Perfect Drift the heavy this time


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Perfect Drift knocked off Mineshaft in June and Congaree in September, and both wins were perceived as upsets. Sunday, on opening day at Hawthorne Race Course, the hunter becomes the hunted. It is Perfect Drift who tops the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup, a $750,000, 1 1/4-mile handicap that seems likely to lure just five starters.

But one of them is Tenpins, who may match up better with Perfect Drift than Congaree did two weekends ago in the Kentucky Cup Classic. Wednesday, both Murray Johnson, Perfect Drift's trainer, and Don Winfree, who trains Tenpins, affirmed their participation in the Gold Cup, and both men said they will lead over horses on top of their game.

"We'll be up there [Thursday] to give him a couple days to gallop over the track," Winfree said. "This horse is at 110 percent right now."

Tenpins battled an injured foot last winter, and has raced only twice this year - winning easily both times - but Winfree has pointed him to a fall campaign for months, and Tenpins should run his best race of the season Sunday. Tenpins had his major Gold Cup work Saturday at Churchill, blazing through a six-furlong breeze in 1:11.60 with a last furlong in less than 12 seconds, according to Winfree.

"If he can win this weekend, we're going to the Breeders' Cup," Winfree said.

But not Perfect Drift, who probably will go from the Gold Cup to the Clark Handicap at Churchill, and will not run in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Even several notable defections from the Classic have not swayed Johnson and owner William Reed, who maintain that going to the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita is the wrong thing for them and their horse.

"There's still the nomination fee and the expense to get out there," Johnson said. "The other thing is the type of racing in California, the racetrack and everything. Who's running doesn't change those things. We've had a good year staying in our backyard, and we're going to keep doing that."

Perfect Drift had his final Gold Cup work Wednesday at the Trackside training center in Louisville. Having run so recently, Perfect Drift needed less work than Tenpins, and breezed a half-mile in a snappy 47.80 seconds.

"We just gave him a stretch of the legs this morning," Johnson said. "He came back happy."

Others expected for the Gold Cup are Aeneas, No Comprende, and San Pedro.

Korbyn Gold gets another shot versus 'Ridge'

Cactus Ridge may have scared away much of his prospective competition, but trainer Steve Asmussen isn't running away. Five horses were entered Wednesday to face the undefeated Cactus Ridge on Saturday in the $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity, and Asmussen feels Korbyn Gold has a decent chance to take down Cactus Ridge.

"He trained well up to his last race, and he's trained very well for this one," Asmussen said. "I think the one-turn mile is a perfect fit for him."

Asmussen can approach the Futurity far differently than he did Korbyn Gold's last start, a three-length win in the $45,000 Spectacular Bid here Sept. 6. Then, Korbyn Gold was coming off an abysmal eighth-place finish in the Ellis Park Juvenile, which Cactus Ridge won by 6 1/2 lengths. Nothing was ever found to be physically wrong with Korbyn Gold, Asmussen said, and Korbyn Gold quickly bounced back with his third win in four lifetime starts.

Owner William Heiligbrodt privately purchased Korbyn Gold after the colt won his debut April 12 at Lone Star, and three months later Korbyn Gold easily won the $75,000 Middleground Futurity.

"I watched his first race, and he looked fast enough. That's my favorite attribute in a young horse," Asmussen said.

Joining Korbyn Gold and Cactus Ridge in the Futurity are Glittergem, Night Charger, Orphan Brigade, and Texas Deputy.

Nicole's Dream hard to beat in turf sprints

The glut of turf sprints here in September is playing to Nicole's Dream's strength.

Purchased privately by the Dare to Dream Stable in August, Nicole's Dream won a sprint allowance on turf here Sept. 4 by almost two lengths, and two weeks later she set a course record of 56.38 seconds for about five furlongs on grass. And, she wasn't even running hard.

Friday at Arlington, Nicole's Dream gets yet another chance to run short on turf when she takes on eight opponents in the $45,000-added Lazer Show Stakes. Nicole's Dream and jockey E.T. Baird have the rail - a sharp break, and they should be gone.

Nicole's Dream's trainer, Larry Rivelli, treated her most recent race as a paid workout. Facing $18,000 starter-allowance horses, Nicole's Dream was an absolute standout, and Rivelli didn't want her working hard to win. Rivelli cringed when he saw the quick time, but Baird convinced him he had never asked Nicole's Dream for any run.

There is one new player on the scene Friday, Margarita Midnight, who finished a close second Aug. 21 in an optional-claiming sprint on turf at Del Mar, and like Nicole's Dream is a specialist in short grass races.

Everyday Angel one to beat in Lassie

A field of 11 2-year-old fillies were entered Wednesday in the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie, which shares top billing with the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Saturday's closing day card here.

Many horsemen had the idea the Lassie field was coming up short, and with the surprisingly large number of horses entered, defections can be expected before race time. If the exact shape of the field remains fluid, the role of favorite does not - Everyday Angel, a standout maiden winner at Saratoga in her last start, should be heavily favored in her first stakes try.