Saturday, March 1, 2003

Congaree heavy favorite in Santa Anita Handicap



By Beth Harris
The Associated Press

ARCADIA, Calif. - A highly anticipated showdown between Medaglia d'Oro and Congaree is off because of a dispute over weight, leaving Congaree as the heavy favorite in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Trainer Bobby Frankel didn't enter Medaglia d'Oro in the 11/4-mile race after officials assigned the horse to carry 124 pounds, the same as Congaree.

Although Congaree's trainer, Bob Baffert, isn't disappointed Medaglia d'Oro won't run, he suggested that forcing the best horses to carry higher weights than their lesser rivals is no longer relevant.

"These handicaps nowadays, they need to just weight-for-age them and forget about it," Baffert said. "That way, they don't have any problems and horses last longer. The old days, maybe they did it that way, but traditions change."

A tradition Baffert hopes to continue is Congaree's undefeated streak at Santa Anita, where he's won four races.

Jerry Bailey, who was set to ride Medaglia d'Oro, will be back on Congaree, who has won his last three starts with him aboard. Included were the San Pasqual and San Antonio handicaps this year.

Last year, Congaree won three of his six starts.

"He was like the big firecracker that never went off," Baffert said. "He was always carrying high weight all last year and wasn't getting the job done. Now he's doing great."

Congaree was made the early 4-5 favorite in the field of seven. Pleasantly Perfect is second choice at 3-1, followed by Frankel's Milwaukee Brew at 7-2.

"A mile and a quarter is going to be huge for him. He can get the distance as long as he doesn't have to go too fast, too early," Baffert said. "He ran a brilliant mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby. He was chasing a fast pace and still hung around for third."

Baffert was considering running Congaree in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 29.

"But he was training so well coming up to this race. He's sitting on a big race," Baffert said. "He's doing remarkably well right now so I have to run him."

Pleasantly Perfect finished third to Congaree in the San Antonio. Trainer Richard Mandella, who's going for his third Big 'Cap win, also will saddle Kudos, who was third last year.

"He's a great big horse that carries a lot of weight," Mandella said of Pleasantly Perfect. "I think he'll move quite a ways forward Saturday."

Mandella's son, Gary, entered 30-1 shot Trompolino.

Also on Saturday's card is the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes for 3-year-olds. The race pits Baffert and Frankel runners against each other. Baffert has 6-1 shot Spensive, while Frankel has 4-1 Peace Rules.

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Devil At The Wire won the $65,000 Gaily Stakes at Gulfstream Park by a neck on Friday, then pulled up after the finish with an injured right front leg.

The 3-year-old filly was taken off the track in a horse ambulance and her condition was not immediately known.

Devil At The Wire edged Formal Miss for the victory in the 1-1/8th-mile grass race, with Gal O Gal third in a field of 12.

Ridden by Mark Guidry, Devil At The Wire won in 1:48 3/5 and paid $14.80, $6.80 and $3.80. Formal Miss returned $4.80 and $3, and Gal O Gal paid $3.20 to show.

Devil At The Wire has three wins in eight starts and earnings of $120,491.

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NEW YORK - Concorde Escapade beat Divine Prospect by a length in Friday's $45,000 allowance feature at Aqueduct.

Concorde Escapade, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, covered six furlongs in 1:11 3/5 on a fast track and paid $6.10, $3.80 and $2.60.

Concorde Escapade won for the second time in three starts and earned $27,000 for owner Patricia Generazio.

Divine Prospect returned $7.40 and $4.20, and Carnie's Dancer paid $2.70 to show.

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NEW ORLEANS - Balto Star will be seeking his second win in three weeks at the Fair Grounds when he takes on 10 challengers in Saturday's $500,000 New Orleans Handicap.

A strong winner in the Whirlaway Stakes in his last start Feb. 9, Balto Star was the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the 1-1/8-mile Grade 2 races.

Balto Star will be ridden by Eddie Martin and carry high weight of 120 pounds.

Mineshaft, winner of the Diplomat Way Handicap on Jan. 19, was the 9-2 second choice, and will be ridden by Robby Albarado.

Best of the Rest, winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25, was 6-1. The 8-year-old will be ridden by Eibar Coa.

Also entered are Strive, Valhol, Bonapaw, Olmodavor, Booklet, Sunday Break, Tracemark and Learned.




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