07/30/2004 12:00AM

Pleasantly Perfect embarks on final mission

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Pleasantly Perfect meets seven foes in the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Sunday, his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup in March.

DEL MAR, Calif. - He is not the richest horse in North American racing history. He may never be. It may never matter. Because even if Pleasantly Perfect cannot reach Cigar's all-time earnings record, there are other attainable goals for Pleasantly Perfect to race toward.

On Sunday at Del Mar, Pleasantly Perfect launches the second half of a campaign that may result in three accomplishments Cigar was unable to attain: a win in the Pacific Classic, a second Breeders' Cup Classic win, and a post-racing stallion career. Pleasantly Perfect meets seven foes in the Grade 2 , his first start since winning the Dubai World Cup in March. The objectives dangle like million-dollar carrots.

"I've got a very valuable commodity here, and I'm trying to win the race," trainer Richard Mandella said Friday. Even if the 1 1/16-mile San Diego is only prep for the Pacific Classic on Aug. 22. At this stage, every race counts for 6-year-old Pleasantly Perfect, a winner of eight races and $6,669,880.

Cigar's earnings record of $9,999,815 may be unreachable, but not the Pacific Classic, a loss that ended Cigar's 16-race win steak in 1996. Cigar won the

BC Classic once; Pleasantly Perfect this fall will try to win it for the second time. Finally, a stallion career beckons for Pleasantly Perfect. Cigar had no such luck; he is sterile.

Pleasantly Perfect's rivals Sunday include During, a graded stakes comebacker; potential upsetter Night Patrol; Taste of Paradise, a Del Mar specialist; unbeaten allowance horse Choctaw Nation; and outsiders Reba's Gold, Nose the Trade, and Decorador. Based on looks and works, the long trip to Dubai in March took nothing out of Pleasantly Perfect.

"He looks as good as ever, he's worked good, he's doing good, and I expect his best," Mandella said. "I'm not trying to get him beat, but I'm not life-or-death in this situation. He's giving [weight] to a couple pretty nice horses. At a mile and a sixteenth, who knows? The speed might get away from him. But this horse shows more speed than he used to."

Owned by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing, Pleasantly Perfect would earn nearly $3 million more by winning the San Diego, Pacific Classic, and Breeders' Cup. It would leave him about $350,000 short of Cigar. At age 6, time is running out for Pleasantly Perfect.

"We haven't talked much about it; most likely he's going to stud," Mandella said. "But it's tempting to try and make the record."

Mandella expects Pleasantly Perfect to win Sunday, and again in the Pacific Classic. Mandella might then just train him to the Breeders' Cup.

Regular jockey Alex Solis is sidelined with injuries, so Mike Smith will ride Pleasantly Perfect on Sunday, then try to beat him aboard Total Impact in the Pacific Classic. Jerry Bailey will ride Pleasantly Perfect in the Pacific Classic.

Although Pleasantly Perfect stands out, the San Diego includes an off-the-wall upset candidate in Night Patrol. A front-runner rounding to his best race third start off a layoff, Night Patrol gets in light and will be overlooked in the betting. The 8-year-old has won 10 races and $744,513 from 54 starts. On paper, he is not good enough. Few 20-1 shots look good enough, particularly against the nation's top handicap horse.

"I know I'm going against a monster, but we have to take shots sometimes," Night Patrol's trainer, Marcelo Polanco, said. "Any time you run in a Grade 1 or Grade 2, you're not going to run with bums. The race is setting up for him and we have a weight allowance - 112 pounds against 124 pounds is a good break. He's squealing and jumping like a 2-year-old. He's doing good, and he'll get brave."

Night Patrol has routed on dirt only once since 1998, winning a $100,000 stakes at Sunland Park. To win, Night Patrol must shake away from last year's San Diego winner, Taste of Paradise, and During.

During has won six races and $729,030 from 16 starts, and should be in front of Pleasantly Perfect in the early going. With a six-pound break, can During upset Pleasantly Perfect? Trainer Bob Baffert smiled at the thought.

"I think we have a good chance of beating him - if they start him from behind the gate."