Countdown to the Cup: Perfect Drift the Next Volponi?

Countdown to the Cup: Perfect Drift the Next Volponi?
Photo: CDSN/Churchill Downs
Could Perfect Drift be the Next Volponi?
With his disappointing fourth-place finish in Saturday's Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II), Perfect Drift has now become a longshot special for the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I). And that makes him even more enticing, as he tries to emulate Volponi, another versatile, hard-knocking warrior who saved his best performance for the Classic.

Volponi lost a lot more than he won, but he never ran a bad race while competing against top-class horses. He also was versatile enough to run well on the turf. Sounds as if that could be describing Perfect Drift, who ran a big fourth in last year's Classic behind Ghostzapper, Roses in May, and Pleasantly Perfect  . Many would regard that trio as a superior group to the horses heading for this year's Classic. Of course, even off this defeat, Perfect Drift will be nowhere near Volponi's 43-1 odds. But he should be a good price nonetheless.

So, just what happened to Perfect Drift, who was never a threat against an ordinary bunch in the Hawthorne Gold Cup?

First and foremost, the track was sloppy and deep, and Perfect Drift has never won a race in the slop. He doesn't dislike it to the point of finishing up the track, but enough to dull his normally consistent closing kick. In the Stephen Foster (gr. I) and Alysheba at Churchill Downs, he ran well enough, but just didn't have his usual kick.

There is no reason to think he won't love Belmont, a racetrack that seems geared for his long, sustained run. And even if it comes up sloppy on Breeders' Cup day, an off-track at Belmont is totally different than an off-track at Hawthorne and Churchill. On many occasions, the slop at Belmont produces fast times, due to the standing water on top and a firm base underneath.

Perfect Drift does not have the brilliance of Saint Liam, but unlike Saint Liam he is proven at 1 1/4 miles, just as Volponi was proven over a distance of ground. It is going to take all the stars being aligned for him to win the Classic, but after three tries, each one an improvement over the one before, who's to say they won't be aligned? At the price he's now likely to be, he could turn out to be an enticing overlay. For a horse who fires almost every time no matter who he's running against, he could be a smart horse to take a shot on.

But first, his connections will have to decide whether they want to go that route. They naturally were disappointed in his effort Saturday, and will now discuss the situation before making a decision.

Battle of Titans Brewing in Mile

With the one-two finishers in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I), Starcraft and Dubawi, looking to square off again in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT), it looks as if Europe will be bringing its championship match to America, where its top two combatants will tackle Bobby Frankel's win machine, Leroidesanimaux, in what promises to be an epic battle. And don't forget last year's Mile winner Singletary, who is still capable of big things despite having a spotty year.

Strarcraft's owner, Paul Makin, has been making some boastful comments regarding the rematch with the Godolphin colt, even suggesting a side wager, but added that he has not ruled out the possibility of supplementing to the Classic. Although he would have to put up an $800,000 supplementary fee, Makin said money doesn't enter the equation. He is just determined to make his New Zealand-bred, Australian champion a champion on an international scale.

The controversy surrounding the Queen Elizabeth started when Frankie Dettori, on Dubawi, elected to split from the small pack, following the top-class Rakti, who was trying to avoid tangling with Dubawi's pacesetter, Blatant. Only Starcraft was content to stay on the rail and track Blatant. As it turned out, that was the place to be. Dettori had to then cut back across the course to engage Starcraft, but was unable to catch him, falling three-quarters of a length short. Both Makin and Godolphin are convinced they have the best miler in Europe and are anxious to settle the score at Belmont Park.

In other news on the European front, last year's Filly & Mare Turf (gr. I) winner and turf female champion, Ouija Board, returned to winning form, taking the Princess Royal Stakes (Eng-III) at Newmarket, setting her up for another try at the Emirates Airline Filly & Mare Turf.

Word from the Aidan O'Brien camp is that Oratorio, winner of the 10-furlong Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) and Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) over English Derby (Eng-I) winner Motivator, is being considered for the Classic. But he first has a date in the Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket, after which a decision will be made whether to try the dirt or stretch the colt out to a mile and a half in the John Deere Turf (gr. IT), where he'd face many of Europe's heavy hitters at that distance.

With King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Eng-I) Stakes winner Azamour forced to miss the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) due to a minor setback, he will now point for the Turf as part of a powerful European team. William Hills has him as the 9-2 second choice behind Irish Derby (Ire-I) winner and early Arc favorite Hurricane Run. Arlington Million (gr. IT) winner, Powerscourt, has been lowered from 6-1 to 5-1, with Bago at 7-1 and Motivator 9-1. The lowest American horse is the defending champ Better Talk Now at 10-1.

William Hills currently is quoting Oratorio at 9-1 for the Classic, for which Saint Liam is an overwhelming 7-4 favorite, down from 2-1.

Will there be a Roman Holiday in JC Gold Cup?

Trainer Bob Baffert's gut instinct told him on a few occasions not to run Roman Ruler in the Travers (gr. I). Now that the Midsummer Derby is history, and Roman Ruler emerged unscathed from the experience, Baffert is beaming with confidence that the son of Fusaichi Pegasus   will rebound with a huge effort in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I).

Roman Ruler came off a layoff to win the Dwyer (gr. II) and Haskell Invitational (gr. I), but, coming off those two big efforts, he may have cooked by a :45 4/5 work at Belmont in his first work after the Haskell. He just didn't seem to be going that smoothly in the Travers, and now, following several big works back in California, he could be an overlay in the Gold Cup.

The long-awaited return of Rock Hard Ten in Saturday's Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) will help shape the Classic picture one way or another. A victory or a good second by the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner will add a good deal of star power to the race.

Smooth seas for English Channel

All the talk for Saturday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) will be centered around the rising star, Shakespeare, following the colt's spectacular victory in the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT). Shakespeare will be attempting to stretch out from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles in the Turf Classic, which is normally not an easy task. The horse most likely to get lost in the shuffle is the 3-year-old English Channel, who has already demonstrated an explosive kick himself. That kick was compromised in the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT), when he was forced to battle on or near the lead throughout. Look for him to be covered up by jockey John Velazquez in order to save his big punch for the final quarter mile.

We'll also get some sort of a preview of the European strength through the Aidan O'Brien-trained Ace, who although winless this year, has been knocking heads with the likes of Oratorio, Azamour, Motivator, and Bago. With a second and a third in group I races, and close-up fourths in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) and Juddmonte International (Eng-I) in his last two starts, Ace should test Shakespeare and English Channel. If they can't handle this colt, they'll really have their hands full on Breeders' Cup day.

Most Popular Stories