08/17/2005 11:00PM

Perfect Drift pick against Lava Man

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NEW YORK - The premier summer meets at Del Mar and Saratoga are rapidly reaching a crescendo. The high point of the Del Mar meet is Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic, and we already know the field for that race, thanks to an early post-position draw. At Saratoga, the main event Saturday is the $750,000 Alabama Stakes, the 3-year-old filly counterpart to Saratoga's signature race, next Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes.

Gardenia Stakes

Most of the time, I approach horses like Halory Leigh with extreme caution. This is a mare who last fall ran the three best races of her life, winning them all in blowouts, and two of them were Grade 2 stakes at Churchill Downs. The fact that after reaching career form she disappeared from the public eye for nine months suggests that some physical problem surfaced that was serious enough to keep her sidelined for so long.

But when it comes to handicapping, you can't be dogmatic. You have to be flexible. Halory Leigh in this race begs to be the kind of exception to a rule I believe in, and I'm going to make an exception and pick her.

For one, Halory Leigh gets an ideal pace set up. Tempus Fugit, Southern Surprise, and Dream of Summer figure to do damage to each other in a debilitating pace battle, and the stretch-running Halory Leigh does not have to be at her best to capitalize. Second, Halory Leigh's trainer, Dale Romans, has an excellent win percentage and shows a flat-bet profit with horses coming back off a layoff of six months or more.

Alabama Stakes

I thought I was being clever when I picked For All We Know in last month's CCA Oaks, only to see her surrender early after being bet down to near 5-2. But I'm a forgiving type of person (my friends can stop laughing now), and I'm going to give her another chance at what should be a much better price.

For All We Know's first three races, all wins, were simply too good and too fast to take her CCA Oaks failure at face value. She has worked well since, and gets a notable jockey change to Gary Stevens. Plus, her main opposition Saturday each has her question mark. Is Spun Sugar capable of a necessary move forward? Does R Lady Joy need a wet track to be most effective? Have the wheels fallen off Sis City?

Pacific Classic

If Lava Man runs anything close to the way he did when he won the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start or the Californian at Hollywood Park two starts back, he will win this race. The Beyer Speed Figures he earned in those victories tower over what everyone else in this field has received lately going a distance of ground. But there is an "if" involved. Lava Man's 116 Beyer in the Californian was 9 points higher than the best Beyer he previously had earned, and he did 4 points better than that winning the Gold Cup. So even though Lava Man has had a suitable layoff to regroup, some sort of regression is still likely. Moreover, Lava Man has an obvious affinity for the Hollywood main track, as 3 of his 4 dirt wins have come there, and this will be his first career dirt start at Del Mar. Lava Man can certainly win, but he's no bargain as the favorite.

I'm going with Perfect Drift. I know I was against Perfect Drift at 1-2 against a soft field in the Washington Park Handicap last time out, but he won't be anywhere near 1-2 this time, and his decisive win in that race had to help his confidence. Perfect Drift likes to pair up victories. He has done so three times earlier in his career, twice in graded stakes, and was beaten only a length in this race last year by Pleasantly Perfect, who would be an overwhelming favorite in this group.

Saturday

Saratoga: Alabama Stakes
Fillies, 3 years old, 1 1/4 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-5:46 p.m., Central-4:46 p.m., Mountain-3:46 p.m., Pacific-2:46 p.m.; Saratoga Springs, N. Y., forecast: Slight chance of thunderstorms, 84 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1R Lady Joy97888410-1
2Sweet Symphony8792707-2
3Ready and Alluring88888510-1
4Sis City71831013-1
5Dance Away Capote9483918-1
6For All We Know8096898-1
7Spun Sugar8993948-5

DRF odds

Ellis Park: Gardenia Handicap
Fillies and mares, 3 and up, 1 mile

Approximate post: E-6:10 p.m., C-5:10 p.m., M-4:10 p.m., P-3:10 p.m.; Henderson, Ky., forecast: Chance of thunderstorms, 92 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Josh's Madelyn95839510-1
2Slewpy's Storm86867215-1
3Quick Temper83818415-1
4Southern Surprise9487838-1
5Miss Fortunate8993965-1
6Dream of Summer88981039-5
7Kristy Beethoven84577015-1
8Halory Leigh991071035-2
9Tempus Fugit58102 -8-1

Odds by Kristin Sadler

Sunday

Del Mar: Pacific Classic
3 and up, 1 1/4 miles

Approximate post: E-7:45 p.m., C-6:45 p.m., M-5:45 p.m., P-4:45 p.m.; Del Mar, Ca., forecast: Mostly sunny, 78 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Polish Times82947630-1
2Choctaw Nation100104n/a9-2
3Borrego10710410715-1
4Lava Man1201161042-1
5Surf Cat1051041145-2
6Super Frolic94999730-1
7Musique Toujours1028410730-1
8Congrats105102n/a15-1
9Island Fashion96987620-1
10Oceanus93819130-1
11Ace Blue989510820-1
12Perfect Drift102102995-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly