07/06/2005 12:00AM

Perfect Drift out of Gold Cup


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Saturday's $750,000 lost a top contender on Wednesday when Perfect Drift, a winner of more than $3.2 million, was held out of the entries because of lingering effects of an eye injury, trainer Murray Johnson said.

The absence of Perfect Drift leaves Limehouse, the winner of the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park on June 11, as the only shipper for the Gold Cup, which is run over 1 1/4 miles. The Grade 1 Gold Cup is being run for the 66th time.

Limehouse, who drew the rail, is expected to be favored in a field of 10 that includes only three other stakes winners this year - Congrats, who won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita in January; Lava Man, the winner of the Grade 2 Californian Stakes here on June 18; and Musique Toujours, the upset winner of the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park in January.

Perfect Drift was third in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 18. Johnson said the eye injury is not severe - the colt is scheduled to work on Saturday - but that the timing was poor.

"We can treat it more aggressively by not running," he said Wednesday. "There was no infection. It looked better today than it looked in a week."

Johnson said that Perfect Drift will be pointed for the $300,000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park on July 30, a race that could serve as a prep to the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 21. Perfect Drift won the 2003 Washington Park Handicap and was second in the 2004 Pacific Classic.

"We are probably being overly cautious," Johnson said.

Several entrants in the Gold Cup will be running in the richest race of their career.

The race marks the stakes debut of Keep on Punching and the Grade 1 debut for Al Arz. They finished one-two in an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles on June 4.

Al Arz was a Group 2 stakes winner over 1 1/4 miles in Brazil last year. The allowance race was his first start in the United States.

"I like the distance, that's the main thing," said Paulo Lobo, who trains Al Arz. "It's a different race over a mile and a quarter than a mile and a sixteenth."