Updated on 09/16/2011 7:13AM

Staying far from madding crowd

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Perfect Drift will try to become the first horse to win the Derby off a six-week layoff since Needles in 1956.

Murray Johnson has been doing his homework. The trainer is bringing , the winner of the Spiral Stakes, into the Kentucky Derby following a six-week break. Asked on Friday if he knew when the last Derby winner had done that, Johnson rattled off the information as though he was auditioning for a job as a researcher on ESPN's racing coverage.

"Needles," Johnson correctly said. "He won a couple of Triple Crown races, so if we can do as well as him, we'll be fine."

Needles, in 1956, was the last Derby winner to have as many as six weeks between his final prep, and his date with destiny at Churchill Downs. Needles won the Florida Derby on March 24, and did not race again until May 5, when he wore the roses, and gave national attention to Florida's breeding program. Perfect Drift won the Spiral on March 23, and will not run again until May 4. If he wins, he might put Louisville's Trackside training center on the map.

Perfect Drift is stabled a few miles from Churchill Downs, at a seven-furlong training center that once was the Louisville Downs harness racing track. It then became known as the Sports Spectrum, when it was first turned into a combination Thoroughbred training and simulcast facility, then was re-christened Trackside.

As far as Johnson is concerned, it is the place to be. Perfect Drift had a strong work there on Friday morning, when he drilled six furlongs in 1:13.60, and will continue to train at Trackside right up until the Derby. While other Derby trainers and horses are fighting the madding crowds on the backside at Churchill Downs the week of the Derby, Perfect Drift will be in a far less hectic setting. He will not go to Churchill Downs until the morning of the Derby, Johnson said.

"There's only 500 horses here, and there's no racing. The track stays in good condition, and it's quiet," Johnson said of the advantages he sees of training at Trackside. "It's low-key."

Perfect Drift will be the second Kentucky Derby starter for Australian native Johnson, 42. He sent out Green Alligator in 1991 to a fourth-place finish. He currently has 15 horses at Trackside, and another 15 at a farm where Johnson lives, about 30 minutes south of Louisville. Johnson's primary client is Dr. William Reed - the director of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Kansas Medical Center - who breeds horses and races them as Stonecrest Farm.

Perfect Drift, a homebred for Dr. Reed, has won three times and finished second three times in six starts. A gelding, he is by Dynaformer, a long-winded son of Roberto, and thus is one of the few runners in this year's Derby who appears to be genuinely bred for classic distances.

He has been training strongly since the Spiral, according to Johnson. In Friday's work, Perfect Drift sat about two lengths behind the older allowance horse Slough Creek, "then down the lane he blew him away," Johnson said, adding that he clocked Perfect Drift's final furlong in 11.40 seconds.

The strategy of coming into the Derby off a six-week break is something Johnson had planned even before the Spiral, and he saw no reason to alter course after Perfect Drift won that race.

"I didn't want to run him three times in six weeks. Especially when, if he runs well in the Derby, you commit yourself to the next two," Johnson said, referring to the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. "Then you end up running five times in 11 weeks. For this horse, it was the right thing to do."

The trend in training has been for horses to have fewer starts before the Derby, and more time between races. But in the late 1800's and early 1900's, feats were accomplished in the Derby that seem mind-boggling today. There are 13 horses who won the Derby in their first race of the year, including Sir Barton, who won all three Triple Crown races in 1919. No horse has won the Derby in his first start of the year since Morvich, in 1922. By comparison, Perfect Drift's 42-day gap is a blip.

In other Derby developments Friday:

o Buddha, the Wood Memorial winner, is "doing super," according to trainer James Bond, who said a post-race blood test "came back great." Bond added, "Everything looks positive." Bond plans to work Buddha on Monday morning at Belmont Park, but is closely monitoring the weather and could move the breeze up to Sunday or back to Tuesday.

o David Flores will ride Essence of Dubai, according to his agent, Jim Pegram.

o Corey Nakatani picked up the mount on Blue Burner, who finished fifth in the Wood Memorial after running second in the Florida Derby, trainer Bill Mott said.

o Came Home and Lusty Latin arrived at Churchill Downs after a flight from California. They finished first and third, respectively, in the Santa Anita Derby.

o Essence of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates Derby winner, exited a quarantine facility adjacent to Keeneland and was sent by van to Churchill Downs.

o Azillion is officially out of the Derby picture after finishing last in the Blue Grass Stakes, trainer Bob Hess Jr. said

- additional reporting by David Grening