Perfect Drift, the winner of Churchill Downs' $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) will not race again in 2003 following last week's disappointing sixth-place finish behind Pleasantly Perfect in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.
Trainer Murray Johnson said the 4-year-old Dynaformer gelding would leave his stall at Churchill Downs' Trackside Louisville training center this weekend and spend a few days on a nearby farm. Then he'll head to Kansas City, where he will spend the winter on the farm of owner/breeder Dr. William Reed.
The Stonecrest homebred could have earned "Horse of the Year" honors with a win in the $4 million Classic. That possibility evaporated on the first turn when Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Funny Cide veered sharply to the outside and interfered with both Perfect Drift and Travers (gr. I) winner Ten Most Wanted. Despite that incident, Perfect Drift rallied on the far turn under jockey Gary Stevens, but faltered in the run through the stretch.
"There was no damage done," said Johnson. "We're glad to have him back in one piece."
Although Perfect Drift suffered no lasting effects from his rough journey in the Classic, Johnson said he was not tempted to try the $500,000-added Clark Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 28. Nor has the lure of the $5 million purse of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) in late March attracted Johnson, who said that Perfect Drift would remain on Reed's Kansas City farm until mid or late January. The star gelding will then return to Johnson's barn at Trackside Louisville to prepare for a campaign that has an early goal of making him just the third horse to win back-to-back runnings of the Stephen Foster.
"We'll probably run him once or twice before that," Johnson said. "It'll be a similar sort of campaign to this year's during the year and then maybe we'll travel at the end of next year."
Perfect Drift won five of his eight races this year and earned $1,505,388. His spectacular season included a trio of grade II wins in the Washington Park Handicap, Kentucky Cup Classic and Hawthorne Gold Cup. He pushed his career record to 9-3-1 in 18 races and boosted his overall earnings to $2,221,368.
Johnson had voiced some misgivings about the Breeders' Cup experience prior to the race, but feels that the decision to take Perfect Drift to the Classic was the proper move.
"If you don't give it a try, you'll never do anything," Johnson said. "I feel he was at his best and, from what Gary (Stevens) said, he still ran a hell of a race to do as well as he did. You can't get banged around as much as he did and still have a chance against those sort of horses."