08/15/2006 12:00AM

Perfect Drift making third Classic try

Borrego (left) beats Perfect Drift to the wire in last year's Pacific Classic, the second straight year in which Perfect Drift ran second in the race.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Perfect Drift races every year through the fall, gets a nice vacation over the winter, and returns at Keeneland in the spring. He has had the same schedule for the last four years, and it has worked gloriously, because Perfect Drift has earned $4,530,483 while winning 11 of 39 starts, including stakes at ages 3, 4, and 6. Now 7, Perfect Drift is making his third straight summer visit to Del Mar, where on Sunday he will compete in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, a race in which he has finished second the past two years.

Perfect Drift arrived here on Monday afternoon, and merely walked around the shed row on Tuesday morning. That left him sharp for a visitor who tried to pet him Tuesday morning and nearly lost his left arm.

"I think he wants to have something to say about all this 'second' stuff," his trainer, Murray Johnson, said at the barn.

In addition to his second-place finishes in the Pacific Classic, Perfect Drift has finished second in 10 other races, including his last two starts, the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, and the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park.

"We went a little easy on him between the Foster and the Washington Park," Johnson said. "It was hot in Kentucky" - where Johnson is based - "and we were pointing for the Pacific Classic. The last race didn't seem to take anything out of him. He's been very aggressive in his training. He knows what we want."

Johnson said Perfect Drift enjoys going on the road.

"He never turns a hair, never appears tired afterwards," Johnson said. "A change of climate, a change of scenery, seems to agree with him. He's doing well if not better than ever."

Entries for the Pacific Classic were to be taken Wednesday night at a party at the beach in Del Mar. In addition to Perfect Drift, the field was expected to include Giacomo, Good Reward, Lava Man, Magnum, Papi Chullo, Preachinatthebar, Super Frolic, and Top This and That.

McGaughey's first Del Mar starter

Shug McGaughey has trained for the Phipps family for more than 20 years, and when the summer comes, that means Saratoga, not Del Mar. But the Phipps family is sending Good Reward to the Pacific Classic, meaning McGaughey, a Hall of Famer, will be saddling his first starter at Del Mar.

"I've never been to the races there," McGaughey said from Saratoga. "I drove past it once. I was out there in the winter of 1978-79 at Santa Anita, working for David Whiteley, and drove past it on the way to Mexico."

Good Reward has shipped successfully to California before. He won the 2004 Hollywood Derby on turf. Good Reward most recently finished fourth in the Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap at Prairie Meadows.

"I think he fits with those horses," McGaughey said. "He should be fine with that bunch. He's a true mile-and-a-quarter horse. The horse to beat is Lava Man, and he was all out to win his last race, so we thought we'd take a shot."

Chavez makes Del Mar debut

Jockey Jorge Chavez was on the backside at Del Mar on Tuesday morning with his new agent, former trainer Chuck Marikian, meeting trainers and preparing for a new chapter of his career.

Chavez, who won the Kentucky Derby with Monarchos in 2001 while based in New York, has relocated to Southern California after riding most recently in Florida and then New Jersey. His first mount at Del Mar will be in Thursday's first race, aboard Chief Cocca for trainer Eric Kruljac.

"The response from trainers has been overwhelming," Marikian said.

Chavez has won 33 races this year. At Monmouth, he was tied for seventh in the jockeys standings with 26 victories.

Triumphant return for Nakatani

After spending five days in the hospital with a nasty virus, and missing nearly one week of racing, jockey Corey Nakatani returned to action on Monday and headed straight for the winner's circle after riding Quiet Kim to victory in the second race.

Nakatani was released from the hospital on Saturday afternoon.

"I had the whole enchilada - fever, vomiting, I had the runs, and I had my temperature get up to 104 degrees," Nakatani said. "It was pretty hairy. My potassium level was real low. The doctors said if I wasn't as fit as I was, I might not be here."

Nakatani was at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, Calif., where his wife, Lisa, is a nurse.

"I got down to 106 pounds," said Nakatani, who usually rides at around 117 pounds. "They said I got a bacteria from Mexico, but I'm not sure how I got it, because I haven't been to Mexico."

Miracle Maker and his saddle at odds

Miracle Maker doesn't have a flat back, nor any other physical deformity that would cause his saddle to slip. But it happened for the second straight time in Sunday's sixth race, once again leaving jockey Tyler Baze with little control.

In each of his last two races, Miracle Maker has gone two turns on grass. Ted West, who trains Miracle Maker with his son, Ted H. West, said Miracle Maker will be returned to a sprint for his next start.

"He was so fresh, he pulled, and Tyler tried to rate him, and that pulled the saddle over his withers," West said. "A trainer can be careless and have a saddle slip once, but not twice. If a horse is inclined to have his saddle slip, my father taught me years ago that you move it back another three inches off the withers, at a lower point in the back. We did that, and it slipped anyway.

"I think if we run him in a sprint next time, that will let the leaders run away from him and he won't have to be rated."

Another horse injured and put down

Exceed the Line, a 3-year-old son of In Excess trained by Steve Knapp, fractured his right shoulder while galloping at Del Mar on Tuesday morning and was euthanized.

Exceed the Line was an unstarted maiden. Knapp said Exceed the Line had only recently began galloping after jogging for a little more than one month. Exceed the Line was injured at the three-furlong pole, just after he changed leads.

"He was just out for a light gallop," Knapp said.

Exceed the Line is the 13th horse to perish at this meeting. Five horses have been euthanized as a result of injuries during training hours, another eight from racing.

* Pure as Gold, the Bing Crosby Handicap winner, will run in the Grade 2, $300,000 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at seven furlongs on Sunday, trainer Jack Carava said. Others expected for the Pat O'Brien include Battle Won, Declan's Moon, and Siren Lure.

* Trainers Craig Dollase and Mike Harrington were fined $400 apiece over the weekend as a result of medication violations at Hollywood Park. In both cases, their horses had excessive amounts of legal medication on race day.

* Jockey Alex Solis has been suspended for three days, beginning Monday, for careless riding aboard Exchange Offer in Sunday's seventh race.

* In rulings handed down by Del Mar's stewards over the weekend, jockey Michael Baze was fined $750 for hitting a horse on the head with his whip in last Thursday's first race, and jockey Norberto Arroyo was fined $300 for breaking the skin of Sol Mi Fa on her flank in the fifth race on July 29.