Updated on 09/17/2011 5:20PM

Pleasantly Perfect still the best

Pleasantly Perfect (right) holds Perfect Drift a length safe to win the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sunday and push his career earnings over the $7-million mark.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Pleasantly Perfect, even at less than his best, is still the best horse in the world.

In a performance that trainer Richard Mandella characterized as a move forward, but still below what Pleasantly Perfect can do at his optimum, Pleasantly Perfect won his third important Grade 1, 10-furlong race in the last 10 months in the $1 million on Sunday at Del Mar.

Before a crowd of 30,177, Pleasantly Perfect overtook Total Impact at the top of the stretch and then safely held off Perfect Drift to win the biggest and richest race of the summer season here.

Pleasantly Perfect reached the wire one length in front of Perfect Drift, with Total Impact another three-quarters of a length back in third. Choctaw Nation, who upset Pleasantly Perfect in the San Diego Handicap Aug. 1, suffered the first loss of his career while finishing fourth.

Pleasantly Perfect ($4) completed 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:01.17. For Mandella, the victory was, he said, "a relief," since Pleasantly Perfect had only managed to finish third in the San Diego. That was his first start since capturing the Dubai World Cup in March.

"He was supposed to win," Mandella said. "I felt terrible that he got beat in the San Diego. I felt responsible."

Pleasantly Perfect was keen to go early in the San Diego, and though he was better in the Pacific Classic, he still was sharper than Mandella would prefer the first part of the race.

"I got a little of the speed out of him, but I don't think I got the job done completely," Mandella said. "I got him in the wrong frame of mind for the San Diego. I got him all jazzed up. There's still a little of that. I don't think this was his best race. I think that will come."

Mandella hopes it will come Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, in which Pleasantly Perfect is the defending champion. The 6-year-old horse has now won nine times in 17 starts, and the $600,000 winner's share of the Pacific Classic brought his career total to $7,349,880 for owner Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing Corp.

The victory was the third in the Pacific Classic for Mandella, but only his first victory of this meeting. It was the first Pacific Classic victory for Bailey, who is based at Saratoga in the summer. Eight years ago, Mandella and Bailey were on opposing teams for the biggest upset in Del Mar history, when Mandella-trained Dare and Go ended Cigar's 16-race losing streak.

"Dick pointed out that I hadn't won the Pacific Classic, and I pointed out that he was 0 for the meet," Bailey joked.

El Elogiado led Night Patrol and During through fractions of 23.45 seconds, 46.82 seconds, and 1:10.90 for the first six furlongs. Total Impact made a premature, wide move on the first turn and then into the backstretch to engage the leaders. Perfect Drift and Pleasantly Perfect were more patiently handled.

Total Impact surged to the lead on the far turn, but by then Pleasantly Perfect was in hot pursuit while four paths wide. Perfect Drift remained covered up, with jockey Pat Day fearful of moving too soon.

Pleasantly Perfect hit the front with a furlong remaining. Perfect Drift had dead aim on him, but could not get past him.

"We couldn't run him down," Day said. "Second best."

* Earlier in the day, Shake Off got up in the last jump to nose out John's Kinda Girl in the $76,105 Barona Cup Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on turf. Tyler Baze rode the B. Wayne Hughes-owned filly for trainer Bob Baffert.