The $750,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) figured to be the remedy for Perfect Drift and trainer Murray Johnson, both winless in 2004. Perfect Drift looked the best on paper and was sent off at odds of 1-2. But after being part of the pace duel early, Perfect Drift didn't offer much response when Freefourinternet, at 27-1, came from far out of it to swoop by the field for a 1 3/4-length victory.
Jockey Greta Kuntzweiler enjoyed easily her greatest victory for trainer Michael Maker and owners Equirase and Ron Peitz. The final time was 2:03 1/5 on a fast track in the 1 1/4-mile event as Freefourinternet went over the $1 million mark in career earnings.
"Basically, I'm just a passenger on this horse," she said. "He has a mind of his own. I asked him to get into the race a little bit and he just won't do it. He won't move until he's ready. You just sit on him and then when he goes you get tied on.
"I couldn't see Perfect Drift. It was my idea to keep tabs on him early but I was so far back I couldn't find him. I think I caught them by surprise. I was really smoking in the stretch. The pace could have been faster. I thought I was riding him in a two-minute lick until about the three-eighths pole. This was by far the biggest win of my career."
Perfect Drift, who has lost eight in a row since winning the Hawthorne Gold Cup last year, has now finished second in four consecutive races.
There proved to be more than enough early pace in the seven-horse field as Powerful Touch, Quest Star and Perfect Drift all contested the early fractions. Covering the first quarter in :23.2/5, Quest Star held a slight lead into the turn while Powerful Touch and Perfect Drift laid close, but Perfect Drift was hung a bit wide into the turn.
After the half in :47 1/5 and three quarters in a quick 1:11 1/5, Perfect Drift assumed command under jockey Pat Day, while wide, with Powerful Touch being the first to drop back. Quest Star dug in for one more effort. As these three battled, the closers began to move with Sonic West coming into the picture and Freefourinternet, more than 25 lengths back early, charging on the outside. In the final sixteenth, Perfect Drift was hanging on for his life while Freefourinternet was rolling home fastest of all.
Perfect Drift was a laboring second while Sonic West rounded out the trifecta. Quest Star ran fourth, followed by Caiman, Kissin Saint and Powerful Touch.
Freefourinternet, a song of Tabasco Cat–Dixie Chimes (Dixieland Band
) won for the eighth time from 32 starts and boosted his career earnings to $1,047,182 with the $450,000 winning prize. He had thrown in some dismal efforts on the turf this year, but after a 4 1/2-month freshening came back Sept. 6 to record a late-closing victory by a head at Mountaineer in the Labor Day Handicap on the turf at one mile. Kuntzweiler rode for the first time that day.
Freefourinternet returned $56.00, $7.00 and $2.10. Perfect Drift returned $2.20 and $2.10 while Sonic West returned $2.10 to show.
"We're going to look at the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) next, possibly the Clark (gr. II on Nov. 26), at least that's my plan," Maker said. "I will continue to use Greta.
"Greta rode a picture perfect race. We've had good luck together."
As for Perfect Drift, Johnson was a bit disturbed.
"The horse isn't really tired. It was just the way the race set up," he said. "He tends to just run with the others and doesn't want to leave them. Pat (Day) didn't want to send him away from the field and the other horse took advantage of that and swept by. He came on again when the other was by him but he doesn't have really strong acceleration and couldn't make up enough ground. The pace didn't really set up and we were laying closer than we wanted to be."
Jockey Pat Day expected a bit more from Perfect Drift as well, "Last year he was very responsive in the bridle. I just kicked a little and he responded gamely. Today when the horse ran by him and I called on him, he didn't really fire. They didn't come home that fast. As easy as we got there I really was expecting decided acceleration."