Perfect begins classic quest
for Horse of the Year

Aug 17, 2004 3:57 AM

Horse of the Year honors are Pleasantly Perfect’s to lose.

Voters will have long forgotten Smarty Jones for that distinction when the polls open late this year. Despite his near-miss in the Triple Crown, his early retirement and the fact that he never raced against (and thus did not defeat) older horses will not stand Smarty in good stead at the ballot box.

Pleasantly Perfect, meanwhile, must win the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30 to muster most of the Horse of the Year votes. With Medaglia d’Oro retired and vanquished by Pleasantly Perfect in the $6 million Dubai World Cup last March, and the comeback of Southern Image on hold pending recovery from a nagging and persistent foot ailment, Pleasantly Perfect is in a favorable spot two months before the populace renders its decision.

First, however, the 6-year-old son of 1981 Kentucky Derby winner Pleasant Colony has to win Sunday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar. That may not be easy, considering Pleasantly Perfect must turn the tables on unbeaten upstart Choctaw Nation, who defeated Pleasantly Perfect in the San Diego Handicap. Choctaw Nation was claimed from his debut race at Santa Anita last February by Jeff Mullins for $40,000. A son of 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, Choctaw Nation will try to stretch his winning streak to six in the Pacific Classic, which is not a handicap, meaning he and Pleasantly Perfect each will carry 124 pounds.

Thus, by everything that is holy in horse racing logic, Pleasantly Perfect should prevail on Sunday. He was making his first start in five months in the San Diego and spotted Choctaw Nation 10 pounds, 124 to 114. He was beaten less than a length after stalking the pace through much of the mile and one-sixteenth race before taking command turning into the stretch. He looked like a winner until he was unable to withstand the late surge of Choctaw Nation. Mike Smith rode Pleasantly Perfect for the first time in the San Diego, filling in for regular rider Alex Solis, who was injured. Jerry Bailey, a seven-time Eclipse Award winner, rides Pleasantly Perfect in the Pacific Classic at a mile and a quarter, a more suitable distance for last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.

"Outside of not winning the San Diego, it was a good race for him and he got a lot out of it," said Richard Mandella, who has won the Pacific Classic twice, with Gentlemen in 1997 and with Dare and Go, a 39-1 outsider who ended Cigar’s winning streak at 16 in 1996.

The Hall of Fame trainer absolved Smith of any wrongdoing in the defeat, instead taking the heat himself. "I wouldn’t say he was too close; that wasn’t our plan," Mandella said. "I just had him too fresh."

Unlike many trainers, who would have leaped at an opportunity to blame the loss on a long layoff and a significant weight disparity, Mandella dismissed both crutches.

"The 10 pounds wasn’t the difference," he said. "The horse hadn’t run for a while and was too eager."

But Mandella fully anticipates all his ducks being in order for the 13th Pacific Classic, although he is the first to admit it’s far too soon to be talking up Pleasantly Perfect as Horse of the Year.

"I try not to think about it," said Mandella, who conditioned turf sensation Kotashaan to Horse of the Year laurels in 1993.

Still, he hinted ever so slightly it was in the back of his mind.

"I wouldn’t trade places with anybody," Mandella said.

The homestretch

If all goes well after the Pacific Classic, Pleasantly Perfect will use the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap at Oak Tree on Oct. 2 as his final major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Pleasantly Perfect won the Goodwood the last two years.

”¡ Halfbridled is due back from the farm next month, Mandella said. The 2-year-old filly champion of 2003, who has not won since capturing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last October, will be readied for a 4-year-old campaign. Mandella’s other 2-year-old champion, Action This Day, also winless since registering at 26-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, will begin galloping shortly.

”¡ If I had a dollar for every pound Kirby Puckett, John Kruk and Tony Gywnn are overweight from their playing days, I wouldn’t have to hit the lottery.

”¡ I’ve got the headline for newspapers in the City of Brotherly Losers when Phillies’ manager Larry Bowa is finally fired: "Bowa-ing, Bowa-ing, Gone!" Sure, the under-achieving Phils have been beset by injuries, but they clearly do not have fun on the field and no lead is safe with that porous pitching staff.

”¡ Vendor’s sign hawking postcards on the boardwalk at one of society’s diverse dropout destinations for degenerates — Venice Beach, California: "25 cents each, four for $1." Duh!