07/27/2005 11:00PM

The time is right for Perfect Drift


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Perfect Drift is one of the richest racehorses in training, with earnings of almost $3.3 million. He finished third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby, and the two in front of him, War Emblem and Proud Citizen, are long gone now. In 2003, Perfect Drift beat the eventual Horse of the Year, Mineshaft, in the Stephen Foster Handicap, and he has run in the last three Breeders' Cup Classics, finishing fourth in a strong edition last season.

But Perfect Drift isn't even listed among the top 10 older dirt horses in Daily Racing Form's Watchmaker Watch, a weekly ranking of divisional leaders. And racing pundits are more likely to refer to him as a hanger than a hero. The problem? Perfect Drift hasn't won a stakes race, or any race on dirt, in 22 months and 14 starts. Last season, he earned almost $1 million while going winless.

"There were a couple times that he should've won," said Murray Johnson, who trains Perfect Drift for owner-breeder William Reed's Stonecrest Farm. "It wasn't always his fault, but that's horse racing."

Saturday at Arlington, Perfect Drift has landed in a race he should dominate if, as Johnson believes, the 6-year-old's spark remains. He was one of seven entered in the Grade 2, $300,000 Washington Park Handicap, a race Perfect Drift easily won two years ago. Perfect Drift lost last season to Ghostzapper, Pleasantly Perfect, Saint Liam, and Roses in May. Saturday, he takes on Mambo Train, Billy Allen, Home of Stars, Fantasticat, Cryptograph, and Freefourinternet, who upset Perfect Drift last fall.

Perfect Drift remains in training at this advanced age because he is a gelding and because Johnson has never put too much stress on his horse. With Perfect Drift's long, successful career has come satisfaction, but Johnson, whose stable numbers 12, hoped for more.

"It doesn't seem like anybody else wants to have one like this, because I didn't get any more horses," he said.

Mark Guidry will ride Perfect Drift for the first time, and is relishing the chance.

"I've watched a lot of his races and wished I could ride him for a long time," Guidry said.

But Guidry's task isn't easy. Perfect Drift has post 1, and the Washington Park has no pace, and Perfect Drift is much better waiting behind honest fractions. Third last out in the Stephen Foster, and just now getting cranked up for the heart of his season, Perfect Drift should be good enough to overcome the obstacles.