08/17/2005 11:00PM

Perfect Drift proving his critics wrong

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Perfect Drift ended a stakes drought that lasted nearly two years with a win in the Grade 2 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park on July 30. For trainer Murray Johnson, the victory was proof that the 6-year-old Perfect Drift was not past his peak.

"That was when the non-believers got back on," Johnson said. "People thought he had lost a step."

Sunday, Perfect Drift can end a different kind of losing streak with a victory in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

Perfect Drift will be trying to win his first Grade 1 since the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June 2003. Since then, he is winless in eight races at the Grade 1 level.

Perfect Drift drew post 12, the outside, on Wednesday for Sunday's over 1 1/4 miles. Lava Man, who will be favored, drew post 4, with Surf Cat in post 5 and Choctaw Nation in post 2.

All starters will likely move in one spot with the expected scratch of the longshot Polish Times, who drew the rail. Trainer Nick Hines said Thursday that Polish Times will start in an allowance race Saturday.

A win would push Perfect Drift past $4 million in career earnings. Perfect Drift has won 11 of 31 starts and finished third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby.

"He has accomplished a lot," Johnson said. "He has been a top horse his entire career. I don't think there's a horse in the field that has accomplished as much as he has."

Perfect Drift, based in Louisville, Ky., with Johnson, will be making his third appearance in California on Sunday. He was sixth in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in 2003 and second in the Pacific Classic last year, losing by a length to Pleasantly Perfect.

"Hopefully we can go one better," Johnson said.

The wide draw does not concern Johnson since Perfect Drift is best suited as a stalker. "The best thing is to jump out and let him do what he thinks," Johnson said. "He's very intelligent."

Perfect Drift is one of six graded stakes winners from 2005 in the Pacific Classic field, joined by Ace Blue, Choctaw Nation, Congrats, Lava Man, and Surf Cat.

Lava Man, trained by Doug O'Neill, has won his last three starts, including the Grade 2 Californian Stakes in June and the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup last month at Hollywood Park.

Two other entrants won graded stakes in their last start - Surf Cat in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 9, and Choctaw Nation in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap here on July 24.