09/17/2006 11:00PM

Trying times for the trainer of Perfect Drift

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While Murray Johnson has been preparing Perfect Drift for the Sept. 30 Kentucky Cup Classic, the veteran trainer also has been dealing with difficult times at home.

Johnson's 78-year-old father, Geoffrey, suffered a major stroke about two weeks ago, just days after being flown to Louisville from California, where he had suffered a near-fatal heart attack Aug. 18 while visiting Murray at Del Mar for the Pacific Classic. The Johnsons are from Australia, and Murray has been dealing with the details of having his father flown back home.

"It's been pretty bad," Murray Johnson said. "He can't speak or swallow. Just when I got him back here from California, he was doing fine, but then he had the stroke. It's been tough."

Meanwhile, at his Trackside Training Center barn, Johnson is focusing on Perfect Drift's upcoming run in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic, the Turfway Park race that will be the 7-year-old gelding's 41st career start.

Johnson said he chose the $350,000 Classic over the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup, which will be run the same day, primarily because shipping will be easier and "because we need to find out if we need to be looking for, or running away from, races on the Polytrack."

Perfect Drift, whose bankroll stands at $4,590,483 after his fourth-place finish in the Aug. 20 Pacific Classic, was shipped to Turfway on Sept. 10 for a five-furlong breeze in a snappy 1:00.20. The gelding has continued to train well at Trackside, said Johnson.

"I love how he's doing, so we'll be going up to Turfway with confidence," he said.

Florida guys try Keeneland string

Rich Averill and Kirk Ziadie, the leading owner and trainer, respectively, at the Tampa Bay Downs meet last winter, are shipping eight to 10 horses for the Keeneland fall meet that begins Oct. 6.

Averill, a construction executive in Bradenton, Fla., said he and Ziadie are looking to improve their standing in racing by shipping their best horses to Keeneland. Their stable star, R Lady Joy, is a possibility for the Grade 1 Spinster on Oct. 8. R Lady Joy earned $565,436 last year at 3 and will be making her first start since suffering a minor ankle injury in late May.

Ziadie, 36, is a former assistant to his father, trainer Ralph Ziadie. The younger Ziadie currently has a 40-horse stable at Calder, where he is third in the standings with 31 winners.

Spotlight on Kentucky Downs

Kentucky Downs opened Saturday with four races interspersed into the Turfway program, with Dynamist rallying for a four-length triumph in the featured Pleasant Temper Stakes, a $40,000 race for fillies and mares.

Dynamist, a 4-year-old Dynaformer filly trained by Ralph Nicks, now has three wins - and two have come in small stakes. Brice Blanc was aboard Saturday for breeder-owner John A. Chandler.

This coming weekend marks the annual highlight at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky. The Kentucky Cup turf series, three races worth a total of $400,000, will be among the six races carded Saturday. The $200,000 Kentucky Cup Turf, a 1 1/2-mile race for 3-year-olds and upward, is the showcase event.

Surface right, price maybe not

Hot Storm, the 4-year-old filly who has a perfect record on Polytrack, figures as a solid favorite Saturday at Turfway when she returns to the Florence, Ky., track for the $75,000 Weekend Delight Stakes.

Hot Storm, trained by Dallas Stewart, is 3 for 3 on the Turfway Polytrack, having captured the Weekend Delight last September, the Holiday Inaugural in December, and the Wishing Well in January. Overall, the Florida-bred filly has won 10 of 23 starts and more than $725,000 for owner Bob Adams of Cincinnati.

Very Vegas is among the probable challengers to Hot Storm in the six-furlong Weekend Delight.

* Keeneland has scheduled a media briefing for Thursday morning to unveil the many new aspects to its massive renovation, most notably the new Polytrack surface that has replaced the former dirt track.