Though it won't feature the marquee matchup most race fans had hoped for, Stonerside Stable's homebred Congaree still needs to get past a formidable foe from Bobby Frankel's barn to win Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I): defending champion Milwaukee Brew.
Frankel was left with just one starter in the Big 'Cap after deciding against running Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner Medaglia d'Oro because of his 124-pound weight assignment. Stronach Stable's Milwaukee Brew has not won since he punctuated last year's Santa Anita win with a score in the Californian Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in June.
But despite not reaching the winner's circle the remainder of the year, the 5-year-old son of Wild Again remained competitive against top stakes company throughout last year and capped his campaign with a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
In his seasonal bow on Feb. 2, Milwaukee Brew finished second to Congaree in the San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita. He has won six of 21 starts over four seasons and earned $2,186,612.
Congaree has been installed the 4-to-5 morning line favorite and will tote highweight of 124 pounds in the 1 1/4 miles contest. The 5-year-old son of Arazi has become perhaps the West Coast's top handicap horse this year with consecutive wins in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) and San Antonio to kick off the campaign.
Congaree began his re-emergence from a summer-long slump late last year with a sharp 5 1/2-length win in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
The field for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in post position order:
1. Trompolino, Tyler Baze, 30-1
2. Piensa Sonando, Gary Stevens, 20-1
3. Pleasantly Perfect, Alex Solis, 3-1
4. Sligo Bay, Laffit Pincay Jr., 15-1
5. Kudos, Julie Krone, 8-1
6. Congaree, Jerry Bailey, 4-5
7. Milwaukee Brew, Edgar Prado, 7-2