08/03/2004 12:00AM

Whitney win would be a first

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Benoit & Associates
Perfect Drift, who is pointing for Saturday's Whitney Handicap, was one of the country's top handicap horses last season, but he's 0 for 4 this year.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - arrived in Saratoga on Monday morning and on Saturday he will try to end a lengthy drought for himself and his trainer, Murray Johnson, in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap.

After winning four graded stakes last year, including the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, Perfect Drift is winless in four starts this year and has dropped five straight overall. Johnson, meanwhile, has not won a race this year (0 for 49) and is 0 for 55 dating back to last Dec. 13.

Johnson has corrected a breathing problem Perfect Drift had coming out of this year's Stephen Foster and he believes his 5-year-old gelding is sitting on a big race. Perfect Drift displaced his soft palate while running third in the Foster and underwent a surgical procedure known as a myectomy. Fellow Whitney starter Seattle Fitz has undergone the same procedure twice this year.

In his first start since the operation, Perfect Drift finished second behind Roses in May in the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows on July 3.

"We didn't get to train him the way we wanted to between races, but he ran very well there,'' Johnson said. "The other horse was able to ride his race and we were down on the inside. He's a really nice horse that beat us, but he'll have a lot more company this time.

Roses in May is one of several speed horses pointing to the Whitney. The other ones are Seattle Fitz, Yessirgeneralsir, and Peace Rules. It is the plethora of speed that prompted Johnson to choose the Whitney over last Saturday's infinitely easier Washington Park Handicap at Arlington.

"We felt the pace scenario set up better than the other one, and after watching that race I think we were correct in that assumption,'' said Johnson, who trains Seattle Fitz for William Reed. "We're looking for this race to set up well for us.''

Pat Day, a five-time winner of the Whitney, will have the call aboard Perfect Drift.

Tuesday, Whitney hopeful Bowman's Band breezed seven furlongs in 1:27.17 over Saratoga's main track while Sarava, the 2002 Belmont Stakes winner, went four furlongs in 50.06 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.

Others pointing to the race include Gygistar, Midway Road, and Newfoundland.

A 'Dandy' of a work for Medallist

If at first you don't succeed, work him another mile.

That was the approach Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens took Tuesday morning with Medallist, who for the second time in five days worked a mile over Saratoga's main track. This work, however, went better than the work last week, and now Jerkens is leaning toward starting Medallist in Sunday's Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds.

Last Friday, after Medallist worked a mile in 1:40.04, Jerkens said the 3-year-old went too fast early and too slow late, and that perhaps he would skip the Jim Dandy to await the seven-furlong King's Bishop. Tuesday, Medallist worked better, though his final time was a slower 1:42.16.

Clockers caught Medallist in fractions of 27.60 seconds, 40.80, and 53.60. That means he went his last half-mile in 48.56 seconds. Jorge Chavez was up for the work.

"He didn't get stirred up at all; he went slow the first part of it,'' Jerkens said. "That doesn't mean that he won't [get stirred up] when he breaks out of the starting gate. There's always a chance he could get excited during the race.''

Medallist would be the most intriguing starter if he goes in the Jim Dandy. Medallist is coming off a superlative victory in the Dwyer Stakes, a one-turn, 1 1/16-mile race on July 11. He beat The Cliff's Edge that day and set a stakes record. The Jim Dandy would be his first start around two turns.

"If he can go two turns and be rated like his grandfather, Star de Naskra, that opens up more options,'' Jerkens said. "You can't win unless you try.''

In addition to Medallist and The Cliff's Edge, others pointing to the Jim Dandy include Courageous Act, Eddington, Niigon, Purge, and Swingforthefences.

Spinaway too close?

Trainers Tom Albertrani and Patrick Biancone are in a quandary. After watching their 2-year-old fillies win races Sunday and Monday, respectively, they are struggling with what to do next.

With the Grade 2 Spinaway Stakes moved from the last weekend of the meet to Aug. 20, both horsemen are leery of rushing their horses back into that race. This year, the New York Racing Association eliminated the Adirondack, a stakes run in the middle of the meet.

With Balletto having won an entry-level allowance race on Monday, Albertrani has little choice but to point her to a stakes. Albertrani said that he is more likely to wait for the Grade 1 Matron going a mile on Sept. 19 at Belmont than come back in the seven-furlong Spinaway.

"She came back a little quick into this race,'' said Albertrani, noting that Balletto had 15 days between her maiden win and Monday's race. "I knew the race was coming up a little light. I just think I'm going to give her more time to the next one.''

Balletto covered 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.33 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 73.

Sunday, Biancone unveiled a good-looking, 2 1/2-length maiden winner named Sense of Style, who ran the same 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.43 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 91.

Biancone said he would nominate to the Spinaway and would evaluate the filly before deciding whether to run.

"With 2-year-olds you don't like to plan too rigid a schedule,'' Biancone said. "Let's see how things go. She's one of the best fillies we've seen this year, if not the best. It's not who's running [in the Spinaway]; it's how she is.''

Yell shortens up in Honorable Miss

Though he has tried to stretch her out several times, trainer Shug McGaughey acknowledges that Yell is probably best as a come-from-behind sprinter. Friday, for the first time in her career, Yell will race six furlongs in the Grade 2, $150,000 Honorable Miss Handicap.

At 3, Yell won the Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. But anything beyond that has been beyond her reach. Yell's most recent victory came in last October's Grade 3 Run Raven Stakes, in which she came from last to win the seven-furlong stakes. She is winless in five starts since, including a second-place finish in the Molly Pitcher Handicap at nine furlongs.

"She wants to be a come-from-behind sprinter anyway,'' McGaughey said. "She's fast; she worked 34 and change before we left Belmont then came here and worked 48 on the training track. I don't think it [six furlongs] will be a problem.''

Others pointing to the Honorable Miss are Smok'n Frolic, My Trusty Cat, Savorthetime, Summer Mis, Belong to Sea, She Is Raging, and possibly Cologny.

* Bwana Charlie, winner of the Grade 3 Lafayette Stakes earlier in the year, tuned up for Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Amsterdam Stakes by working four furlongs in 47.46 seconds over the Oklahoma training on Tuesday. Works under 48 seconds over that deep surface are unusual, and it was the fastest of 19 works at the distance.