07/17/2003 11:00PM

Perfect Soul exits key race


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The rapidly improving Perfect Soul will try to solidify his status as the leading turf runner at Woodbine Sunday in the $330,900 Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes.

A field of eight was drawn for the Grade 2 race, which could be regarded as a prep for the Grade 1 Arlington Million Aug. 16.

Perfect Soul won three of seven starts in 2002 although he failed to win a stakes race. He won his season opener this year in a Keeneland allowance race, and then finished second in the Grade 2 Dixie Handicap at Pimlico.

Perfect Soul, who is trained by Roger Attfield, is coming off a decisive score in the Grade 2 King Edward Breeders' Cup Handicap, a nine-furlong race that has become a key race. Tap the Admiral, the fourth-place finisher, came back to win the Grade 2 Firecracker at Churchill, while unplaced Red Sea subsequently won a $100,000 optional claiming race.

Jockey Robert Landry believes Perfect Soul, a son of top European sire Sadler's Wells, is a superior runner this year at 5.

"He's a lot more mature," Landry said. "Last year, sometimes he would hang when he got up to [the leaders]. Consequently, we started taking him back farther off the pace, but then he had to run into slow fractions. This year, he's learned to run where he's comfortable. I just let him run wherever he breaks, and then he'll kick on and leave horses and finish."

Landry said he isn't concerned with the 1 3/8-mile distance. "The way he's going now, I don't think it will affect him," he said.

Mark Frostad entered a trio of Sam-Son Farm runners - Strut the Stage, Portcullis, and Angel on the Wing.

Strut the Stage, victorious in the 2002 Dixie, won the Sky Classic Handicap at 1 3/8 miles here in October. He rallied four wide to finish second in the King Edward, which was his first outing in nearly eight months.

Assistant trainer Hugh Chatman believes Strut the Stage was short on conditioning for the King Edward.

"He'll be a lot better now with that race under his belt," Chatman said. "When he came to us at Keeneland in the spring, he wasn't fit at all. It took a while to get him into gear."

Chatman said Portcullis, last year's champion turf horse, also needed his season opener. Angel on the Wing, a late-developing son of Sky Classic, will ensure an honest pace.

* Wake at Noon, the 2002 Canadian Horse of the Year, is among the six entrants in Sunday's supporting feature, the $106,000 Izvestia Stakes.