Entered in this year's Breeders' Cup Championships is a horse who has not let the increasing years of his life affect his racing career. Perfect Drift, still going strong at age 7, has aged like fine wine, continuing to post impressive efforts as Nov. 4 rapidly approaches.
Though Perfect Drift is winless this year, he has hit the board in four of six trips, including the grade I Stephen Foster and grade II Washington Park Handicap and Kentucky Cup Classic. The last mentioned race was the gelding's first attempt on Polytrack.
Despite his 15-month drought, the son of Dynaformer has been a consistent money-maker over the years, with earnings of more than $4.6 million. A winner on dirt and turf, and now a runner-up on Polytrack, Perfect Drift seems to favor the dirt, as he has not finished worse than fourth on that surface since the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I).
Winning a total of seven graded stakes in his 41-start career, including the 2003 Stephen Foster, Perfect Drift has been in the money in 17 other added-money contests, the most significant being a third in the 2002 Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He will go into his fifth attempt at a Breeders' Cup trophy after running a strong third in last year's Classic.
Trainer Murray Johnson attributes the gelding's stamina to patient handling and the care of owners Dr. William Reed and his son Bryan of Stonecrest Farm, who let him frolic every winter at their farm near Kansas City. The trainer added that Perfect Drift also had an exceptional bone structure, strong joints and ligaments.
Giving hope to the aforementioned old timers are past Breeders' Cup contenders Kona Gold, Bet On Sunshine, and John's Call, who all posted respectable finishes at ages 6 through 9.
In 1998, Kona Gold made his first attempt at the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) as a 4-year-old and wound up third. Improving his efforts the next year to run second, the bay gelding by Java Gold finally won the race on his third try at six in 2000. Though he finished unplaced in the next two consecutive Sprint runnings, Kona Gold, owned by the partnership of trainer Bruce Headley and Irwin and Andrew Molasky, retired with earnings of more than $2.2 million.
Another overachiever late into his game is Bet On Sunshine. Though the son of My Own Sunshine never won the Sprint in his three attempts, he was one of the two oldest horses to contend for a Breeders' Cup title at age 9. Posting respectable third-place finishes in the race in 1997 and 2000, Bet On Sunshine went at it again in 2001, but quickly faded and wound up unplaced. In spite of that disappointing effort, the Paul McGree-trained gelding continued to race as a 10-year-old and was stakes-placed that year before retiring with earnings of more than $1.4 million for David P. Holloway Racing.
A former claimer, John's Call scored his major win in the 2000 Sword Dancer Handicap (gr. IT), the same year he would make a stab at the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). Tying Bet On Sunshine as one of the oldest horses to run in a Breeders' Cup Race, the gelding by Lord at War finished third, and then went on to win the Cape Henlopen Handicap as a 10-year-old. He retired from racing with lifetime earnings of more than $1.5 million for owner Trillium Stable and trainer Thomas Voss.
One of the most notable older horses still at his prime as a 9-year-old was Hall of Famer John Henry, who raced before the Breeders' Cup races were established, but became the only horse of his age to win a grade I race. A multiple champion and winner of more graded stakes than any other Thoroughbred (25), the son of Ole Bob Bowers retired in 1985 as the world's richest Thoroughbred with earnings of $6,591,860.