09/21/2005 11:00PM

Perfect Drift: Same race, next year

Perfect Drift, who won the Hawthorne Gold Cup in 2003 and was second last year, will be heavily favored.

CHICAGO - A curious racing fan looking back to, say, mid-May, would find in Daily Racing Form's Watchmaker Watch, a weekly listing of divisional leaders, 10 names in the older-male category. Ghostzapper is retired. Roses in May is retired. Rock Hard Ten hasn't raced in months. Southern Image - retired. Badge of Silver - hasn't raced in months. Funny Cide - done for the year. Second of June - on the shelf. Eddington - retired. And Pollard's Vision is retired.

If the Breeders' Cup Classic turns into a game of Last Horse Standing, we can always turn to Perfect Drift.

Perfect Drift, three-quarters of the way through his 6-year-old season, didn't make the top 10 list in May, but he has plowed through another highly successful season, winning twice in five starts so far while racking up another half-million dollars in earnings. The total is set to go significantly higher on Saturday at Hawthorne Race Course, where Perfect Drift will be favored to beat nine rivals in the Grade 2, $750,000 .

Absent another standout handicapper, Perfect Drift could be as short a price, 1-2, as he was in this race last season. But his connections, the Stonecrest Farm of William and Mary Reed and trainer Murray Johnson, are hoping for a different result, since a year ago Perfect Drift was passed in the stretch by a longshot named Freefourinternet.

"Last year, it was just the way the race worked out," Johnson said. Jockey Pat Day "just couldn't see Freefourinternet. That's racing, and that's why they run the races."

The thing about Perfect Drift is, if you don't like the way things turned out one year, you can always drag out an older calendar. In 2003, Perfect Drift won the Gold Cup, and he seems stronger entering Saturday's race than when he came to Hawthorne last fall.

Johnson has been training Perfect Drift at the Churchill Downs training center in Louisville since the horse was 2. To say a routine has developed would be an understatement. There are the geese that frequent a lagoon inside the training oval, birds that Perfect Drift must always account for when he goes out to train. And there are the days, every week or so barring a race, when Perfect Drift is allowed to open up just a little bit during a timed workout.

"Dr. Reed was in town last week when we went and did our usual five-eighths work," Johnson said, "and it's amazing just how many times we've done that. He just keeps on going, and he's as good as he has ever been. To me, he has been amazingly consistent."

Among others, Perfect Drift has to beat the defending Gold Cup winner in Saturday's race, run at 1 1/4 miles on dirt. Freefourinternet, in fact, has not won a race since he came from more than 20 lengths back in the 2004 Gold Cup.

"It's the same as last year," said trainer Mike Maker. "It's $750,000 and we will take a shot. He's not training any different than at any other time. Obviously, he needs the pace scenario to set up just right for him, and no bias on the racetrack. He has got his own way about himself."

With the local horse Nkosi Reigns opting for the Carey Handicap - one of two other stakes here on Gold Cup Day - the pace figures only to be moderate, with California shipper Desert Boom likely to get the lead, tracked by Lord of the Game. Desert Boom finished third, beaten less than a length, in his last start, the Longacres Mile, and had won three in a row before that start, including the Claiming Crown Jewel over Lord of the Game. Desert Boom's owner, Robert Bone, said a wide draw in the Longacres Mile compromised his horse, and that the Gold Cup's additional quarter-mile would help Desert Boom.

The Gold Cup's wild card is Good Reward, a Grade 1 winner on turf, but with a dirt record of 1-0-0 from five starts.

"We wanted to give him another chance on dirt," said Buzz Tenney, assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey. "Recently he has trained as well on dirt as on turf. I think he's a lot different horse on dirt than he was even a year ago."