10/31/2005 1:00AM

Perfect Drift, Suave expected for Clark 'Cap

River Downs
Laity, shown after the Cradle at River Downs, is a contender for Saturday's Iroquois.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It won't be getting Saint Liam, but Churchill Downs will be more than happy to get a few leftovers from the Breeders' Cup Classic when the marquee race of the fall meet, the Grade 2 Clark Handicap, is run Nov. 25.

Saint Liam, who figures to be voted Horse of the Year after capturing the Classic, is the reigning champion in both major handicap races at Churchill, having won the Clark last fall and the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in June.

Saint Liam became the third horse to win the Foster and the Classic in the same year, following Black Tie Affair (1991) and Awesome Again (1998). In those prior years, the Classic happened to also be run at Churchill.

Although Saint Liam is being retired off his crowning victory last Saturday, several locally based horses are expected to wheel back in the $500,000 Clark, most notably Perfect Drift and Suave, the respective third- and fifth-place finishers in the Classic.

D. Wayne Lukas also has mentioned the Clark as a logical next race for 3-year-old A.P. Arrow, who was excluded from the Classic, while Neil Howard has the Clark circled for Alumni Hall, winner of the Fayette on Saturday at Keeneland.

By running third in the Classic, Perfect Drift surpassed the $4 million earnings mark and further enhanced his reputation as an ageless and reliable grinder. Seconds after the Classic was run, trainer Murray Johnson told the 6-year-old gelding's breeder-owner, Dr. William Reed: "We're closing in on them, Dr. Reed. We've been 12th (in 2002), sixth (in 2003), fourth (in 2004), and now third."

Johnson attributed the solid effort Saturday by Perfect Drift to an easier training schedule in the weeks approaching the Classic. In his previous start, Perfect Drift ran fourth in the Sept. 24 Hawthorne Gold Cup.

"He really only trained a couple of weeks during that time, and that's about all you have to do at this time of year," he said. "I knew he was dead fit, so I was confident we were doing the right thing."

Trainer Paul McGee also said he was very satisfied with how Suave ran at 16-1. The 4-year-old Suave forced all the pace before finishing just three lengths behind Saint Liam.

Spinster not nearly as bad as time implied

For horseplayers who dismiss raw times as being irrelevant, your chance to make a score might well have been the BC Distaff, which Pleasant Home won by 9 1/4 lengths.

In her previous start, Pleasant Home had earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure when she finished second to Pampered Princess in the Oct. 9 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland. However, the eye-catching figure for the Spinster was the final time for the 1 1/8-mile distance: 1:53.91, the slowest - by more than two seconds - in the 50-year history of the race.

That means Pleasant Home took longer than 1:54, a horrible time for a top-class horse under normal circumstances. Clearly, the overriding consideration was how incredibly slow the Keeneland main track played this fall, particularly early in the meet.

All 2-year-old racing on Saturday's card

In doing more than its share to fill the post-Breeders' Cup void for fans, Churchill will host its "Stars of Tomorrow" program here Saturday. The entire 10-race card will be for 2-year-olds, highlighted by twin $100,000, one-mile stakes: the Iroquois for colts and geldings, and the Pocahontas for fillies.

The Iroquois already is coming up an excellent race, with the likely starters expected to include Charley Tango, runner-up to Sorcerer's Stone in the Arlington-Washington Futurity; Flanders Fields, a highly impressive winner of a New York maiden race for Dallas Stewart; and Laity, winner of the Cradle Stakes at River Downs.

Graded stakes horses in allowance feature

Gulch Approval, the third-place finisher in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile at Keeneland, and Old Forester, runner-up to Kitten's Joy in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap here in July, look like the logical horses to beat in Wednesday's ninth-race feature, a fourth-level allowance for older horses at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Three other allowances are carded as races 5, 7, and 8.

The first of three weekly handicapping contests will be held Wednesday. The finals are set for Nov. 23, with two berths in the National Handicapping Championship at stake.

The pick six carryover from Sunday is $3,803. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.

Not enough grays to run

Churchill cited a lack of sufficient entries for not carding a Halloween tradition here Sunday: The Grey Ghost starter allowance, limited to grays, drew only three entries.

Churchill isn't the only North American track to run a race for grays around Halloween. In fact, several hours after the Breeders' Cup was finished Saturday, The Meadowlands ran a starter-allowance race restricted to grays. Triple X., who briefly campaigned in Kentucky last summer, won as the odds-on favorite.