A perfect drift is the ultimate fly fishing cast. "It's when it catches the current just right and the fly looks as natural as possible," said Bryan Reed. When Murray Johnson, trainer for Bryan's father, Dr. William A. Reed, made his cast and hooked jockey Eddie Delahoussaye to ride his 3-year-old in the March 23 Lane's End Spiral Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park, the outcome was bound to be a natural. In a stretch run that promptly reminded everyone why he has been a member of racing's Hall of Fame since 1993, Delahoussaye steered Perfect Drift to the perfect spot, got clear late, and rode him to a thrilling neck victory in Turfway's marquee Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prep. "Eddie D. is special," Dr. Reed said. "He has the knack to make that kind of decision--to go out, in, and back out. He has that certain intangible." Getting Delahoussaye out of his cozy confines in Southern California is no small feat--it wasn't as if Perfect Drift's chances were going to be like shooting fish in a barrel in the 1 1/8-mile race. But Johnson, who forged a relationship with the rider while an assistant for John Gosden, got him to take the bait, a barb laced with Derby fever. Back in '91 Delahoussaye had helped the trainer prep Green Alligator for the Derby. The runner-up to post time favorite Request for Parole in a pair of Spiral preps, Perfect Drift was the 4-1 third choice, behind his rival and the undefeated New Yorker Saratoga Blues. But Johnson was "quietly confident" about turning the tables with the race's added ground. A non-imposing son of Dynaformer, Perfect Drift had finished 1 1/2 lengths behind in the one-mile WEBN Frog Stakes on Feb. 2, and was beaten a nose in the 1 1/16-mile John Battaglia Memorial Stakes four weeks later. The presence of Saratoga Blues and recent Gulfstream allowance winner Straight Gin figured to ensure quick splits for the front-running Request for Parole. Johnson's strategy was to wait, then "in the stretch, engage whoever is left." Request for Parole's trainer, Steve Margolis, played his trump card by getting Pat Day to ride Sam and Jeri Knighton's runner. After drawing post two for the Spiral, Margolis downplayed his disappointment for a middle-to-outside position with his confidence in having the other Hall of Fame rider in the race. Request for Parole looked strong in the paddock--cut from the same cloth as his sire, Judge T C. He broke sharpest of the eight aspirants, but Saratoga Blues, breaking from post five, got the early advantage. Straight Gin, trainer Nick Zito's sixth straight Spiral starter, sprinted out from the outside. As they zipped 'round the first turn, however, it was rail-bound Request for Parole who found the lead. After an opening quarter in :22.95, Day was able to slow the pace slightly with a :46.59 half. He held a slim advantage over Saratoga Blues with Straight Gin still applying pressure from the three path. The second flight was attended by Azillion, an allowance third to Sunday Break at Santa Anita last out, a three-wide Perfect Drift, and longshot Benny the Hawk. The order stayed that way down the backstretch as they hit six furlongs in 1:11.18, but things were about to heat up. Request for Parole and Saratoga Blues still ran as one, but Azillion was moving fast. Delahoussaye inched Perfect Drift closer. Request for Parole carried a tiring Saratoga Blues off the rail on the bend, clearing room for Azillion, who cut the corner, and in an instant challenged for the lead. Meanwhile, Perfect Drift had also moved inside.
"He was on the outside and I blinked and he was on the rail," Johnson said. "It was the most incredible move. Then Eddie just sat there and was parked behind horses. He's been doing this for 20 years and he still knows what he's doing." Swinging the charging Perfect Drift outside, Delahoussaye "knew I had 'em," but he worked hard to get past the two to the line. Azillion held tough for second, with just a nose on the game Request for Parole. The time for the mile was 1:36.66 and the final time was 1:48.83. Overbrook Farm's Gold Dollar came from last to finish fourth, eight lengths behind the trio. Pace players Straight Gin and Saratoga Blues finished fifth and eighth, respectively, giving strength to Request for Parole's effort. "I'd rather we were stalking," Margolis said. "He wasn't where I wanted him to be. The pace was honest and he dug in. He went :46 and 1:11 in a mile and an eighth race, and he didn't pack it in." "I might have taken him out of his game plan," Day professed. "He broke good, and the way the track was playing, I went with him."
The top three finishers will press on the Derby trail. However, it was the winner who remains the most cautious. "I've always thought the Derby puts too much stress on a horse," Dr. Reed said. "I believe in giving horses two to three months off a year. This horse has stood up to the training, but if it looks like we're pushing him, we'll back off. If you had asked me a year ago if I'd have a Derby horse, I wouldn't have thought so." Reed is the epitome of a conservative Midwesterner. The Kansas City heart surgeon got into racing by buying two horses at a Keeneland sale in 1990, but figured out early that if he was to make a go of it, it would be by breeding his own horses. He has seven mares at his 110-acre Stonecrest Farm outside Kansas City, breeding and foaling in Kentucky, and raising his horses in Missouri. Reed also had some added luck with the help of his 4-year-old granddaughter. Two days before the race, Bryan's daughter, Emily, found a small white plastic cross with the word "courage" on it. They gave it to Johnson, who tucked it into Perfect Drift's saddlecloth. They'll need that added courage to brave the deep waters downstream.
Breeder/owner/icon Paul Mellon was an "Exemplar of the Turf." So any horse named after him had better be able to exude the same class. Mr. Mellon, by the Mellon-bred Red Ransom out of Mackie (who's out of the Mellon-bred Glowing Tribute), took a step toward living up to his name by winning his stakes debut in the $98,000 Rushaway Stakes on the Spiral undercard. After a heart ailment that put the breaks on his juvenile campaign, he showed "he's class--he's a very professional horse," said WinStar Farm president Doug Cauthen after an impressive 2 1/4-length win. He covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.90. Trained by Elliott Walden, WinStar Farm's and Tom VanMeter's colt is undefeated around two turns, and looms a late entry to the unfocused Derby picture. Following a devastating four-length win at Gulfstream Feb. 23, it was time "to dip our toe in the water," said WinStar principal Kenny Troutt. "We were looking at a non-winners of one at Keeneland, but Elliott thought we should step up. That's why I'm not allowed to read a condition book." Day hustled Mr. Mellon on the pace while three wide in the Rushaway, sitting off :23.11 and :46.61 fractions. He applied pressure to leader Wild Horses after six furlongs in 1:10.84 and put the hammer down in the lane. Wild Horses held for second, 5 1/2 lengths ahead of the other on-pace horse, Derby Drive.Continued...