09/11/2003 12:00AM

This is Perfect Drift's BC Classic

Email

FLORENCE, Ky. - It doesn't take a lot to get trainer Murray Johnson started. Ask him why he doesn't intend to run his stable star, Perfect Drift, in the Breeders' Cup Classic again this year, and he is off and winging.

"You've got a horse who's going to win the Classic this year who doesn't even belong there," said Johnson, referring to Argentine-bred Candy Ride. "Doesn't that tell everyone not to breed horses in North America? Personally, I think it's ridiculous."

Aside from what he perceives to be faulty guidelines and excessive costs - entry and start fees for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita this year total $120,000, or 3 percent of the $4 million purse - Johnson said he has "a lot of reasons" to bypass the Breeders' Cup with Perfect Drift, a gelding who finished last of 12 in the Classic last year at Arlington.

"We get offers every day to go elsewhere in the world," Johnson said. "We're a gelding, and it does not enhance our value whatsoever by running in the Breeders' Cup."

Johnson, who trains Perfect Drift for owner-breeder Dr. William Reed, not only intends to run Perfect Drift in the Kentucky Cup, but also right back in the $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup 15 days later.

"This is the kind of horse that keeps an operation like mine going and supports what the owner is trying to do," said Johnson. "We've got to take advantage of what we have with him, and running against something like eight of the world's best handicap horses in California isn't the best way to do that. These next couple of races, they're worth $1.1 million. That's our Breeders' Cup right there."

Crafty Shaw a horse for the course

Trainer Pete Vestal will quickly concede that Crafty Shaw "probably is running for third money" behind Congaree and Perfect Drift in the Kentucky Cup Classic. But then Vestal takes a hard look at what Crafty Shaw has done at Turfway, and he gets a little braver.

"He's 4 for 4 at Turfway Park," said Vestal. "Perfect Drift might be at a slight disadvantage because he usually has to come from off it, and the other horse [Congaree] will have to stumble. But if we have one thing going for us, it's our record over the track."

Crafty Shaw, a 5-year-old owned by Oaklawn Park chairman Charles Cella, has earned nearly $650,000. Away from Turfway, the horse is 6 for 24.

Kentucky Cup purses lowest ever

Purses for the Kentucky Cup this year are $825,000, the lowest in event history, but for non-Kentucky-breds, there's not much difference. Bonus money from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund is no longer part of the purse in three races - the Sprint, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies.

Although the cuts are primarily due to the well-publicized business struggles that Turfway has endured in recent years, track president Bob Elliston and horsemen's representatives said they believe the cuts were made in the right place.

"We did this in concert with our horsemen to balance out the rest of our overnight programs and reappropriate the KTDF funds to our maiden and allowance races," said Elliston.

Steep declines in handle

The Kentucky Cup record for all-sources handle was set six years ago, when nearly $9.6 million was bet on Sept. 13, 1997. Since then, handle on the event has decreased heavily, with the two lowest-handle days coming the last two years. In 2001, total handle slipped under $5.4 million, while just under $6 million was bet last year.

Elliston said numerous factors have led to those decreases, notably the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks two years ago. "It also happens that we've had some pretty serious competition within the industry in certain years for the Kentucky Cup, such as preview day at Belmont," said Elliston. "This year, we're very optimistic. We're looking for a monster day Saturday."

Tom Van Berg's really big day

Even if trainer Tom Van Berg wins the Juvenile Fillies with longshot Scottish Miss, it won't be the most important thing to happen to him Saturday.

In fact, Van Berg won't even be at Turfway to saddle the filly because of a more pressing event: Van Berg is getting married. His wedding to Angi Lincoln is scheduled for 7 p.m. in Louisville.

Bejarano makes Turfway debut

Rafael Bejarano, the runaway leading jockey at the recent Ellis Park meet, made his first appearance at the Turfway meet - riding two winners on Wednesday. Bejarano sat out the first week of the meet to serve a suspension stemming from a riding infraction at Ellis last month.

During his down time, Bejarano, who is from Peru, visited relatives in the San Francisco area. He has mounts in every Kentucky Cup race except the Classic.

Questions for Private Horde

Private Horde, upset winner of the Forego Handicap at Saratoga last month, will be heavily favored here Sept. 20 in the $75,000 Marfa Stakes, a 6 1/2-furlong race that his connections are hoping will serve as a final prep for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Private Horde, trained by Joe Cain, is based at owner Billy Tucker's private farm in Russell Springs, Ky., about a 2 1/2-hour drive southeast of Louisville. Tucker has two major decisions ahead of him: He is in the process of selling a substantial share in Private Horde to offset a $90,000 supplementary fee to run in the Breeders' Cup, and he and Cain will have to get a new jockey for the horse because regular rider Jason Lumpkins will be serving a suspension when the Marfa is run.

Some memorable winners

In just nine short years, the history of the Kentucky Cup Classic already is filled with horses who have made major accomplishments before and after running at Turfway. Among distinguished Kentucky Cup Classic runners are Tabasco Cat, Best Pal, Thunder Gulch, Silver Charm, Cat Thief, and Captain Steve.

Conversely, no Classic winner has entered and exited the consciousness as quickly as Pure Prize. The impeccably bred colt (by Storm Cat out of Heavenly Prize) scored his first stakes victory by winning the Kentucky Cup Classic last year for trainer Shug McGaughey, then never raced again. Now 5, Pure Prize recently served his first year at stud at Vinery in Midway, Ky.

Cooksey begins trail riding

Patti Cooksey, a fixture at Turfway, continues to recuperate from the fractured femur and other injuries she suffered in a spill April 13 at Keeneland. Now Cooksey, 45, is trying to decide whether she will return to her career as a jockey.

"I don't know, and she doesn't know," said Cooksey's husband, John Neal, lead outrider at Churchill Downs. "She's getting around real well, and she's been trail riding quite a bit lately. They say it's great therapy for her. But whether or not she's coming back, I don't think she's gotten that far yet."

Cooksey is one of Turfway's all-time leading riders, having won 12 stakes and four meet titles. She rode four winners on a card on four separate occasions.

* The Kentucky Thoroughbred Media will present its annual awards for top Kentucky-based horses Saturday at Turfway. Orientate was voted the Boston Harbor Award for top male by KTM members while Take Charge Lady won the Morris Code Award for top female.