When Arazi came to the 1992 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), it was his first appearance at Churchill Downs since winning the previous year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at the Louisville track. He was the 4-5 favorite and was expected to play an important role in the first Saturday in May. He finished eighth that day, while Lil E. Tee earned the rose blanket.
In 2001 Arazi could have his first starter as a sire in the big race, but it is doubtful Congaree will get the same amount of attention Arazi did with his Louisville arrival. Yes, he did make an impressive entrance into the stakes scene with a 2 3/4-length win in the Wood Memorial, but until then, estimation of his talent was mostly speculation.
Even though his father's experience doesn't bode well for the Derby, Congaree's human connections certainly make up for any shortcomings there. Robert and Janice McNair, who bred 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus with Arthur B. Hancock, bred Congaree in the name of their Stonerside Stable. He now races in their green and white silks. The colt's trainer, Bob Baffert, won the 1997 and 1998 runnings of the race with Silver Charm and Real Quiet, respectively, and in addition to Congaree, trains Derby contender Point Given.
Congaree's dam, Mari's Sheba, was among the first broodmare purchases made by the McNairs when they jumped into the breeding and racing business in the mid-1990s. On Valentine's Day, 1997, they privately purchased 35 mares from Elmendorf Farm. According to Stonerside's bloodstock and racing manager, John Adger, Congaree's dam was one of the reasons they made the deal.
"There were three key mares in that purchase," said Adger. "One was Halory, the dam of (grade I winner) Halory Hunter. One was Mari's Sheba, and the third was grade III winner Ziggy's Act." Also in the purchase package was the dam of Mari's Sheba, Sheba Little.
Mari's Sheba raced 14 times. She won three of those starts, and never finished better than third in a stakes race. However, one of those show spots came behind Serena's Song and Urbane in the 1995 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), a race Adger remembered. "She was a very fast race filly," he said. Mari's Sheba retired in 1996 with earnings of $131,432 and nine in-the-money finishes. Because of colic surgery, she was barren when the McNairs acquired her. Mari's Book won only three of his 17 starts. He only managed third-place finishes in the Bayard Tuckerman, Jr. H. and Oil Capitol H. (Div 2). His main classic connection is his sire, 1964 Kentucky Derby winner Northern Dancer.
Adger said Arazi was chosen for the mare to try and concentrate the speed both had illustrated on the racetrack. "I liked him and felt he was a horse that was obviously brilliant as a racehorse, but had a classic pedigree," Adger said. "Frankly, he hadn't done well at stud (at that point). It could be they were breeding classic-type mares to him, so we did just the opposite and bred a couple speedy fillies to him."
So speed might not be a question for Congaree, but what about stamina? His dam's three wins were at distances of 5 1/2 and six furlongs. His sire won at distances from 6 1/2 furlongs to 8 1/2 furlongs. The resulting dosage profile is 11-0-9-0-4 with a 1.82 index and a +0.58 center of distribution. So according to the dosage theory, he is genetically likely to win the race by both his DI and CD, but of course, only the running will tell if he can.
The Arazi-Mari's Sheba cross resulted in a 3x3 inbreeding to Northern Dancer. Adger pointed out a similar inbreeding produced Touch Gold, who won the 1997 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) for the McNairs and Frank Stronach.
Beyond Northern Dancer, Congaree has two other classic winners in his first three generations. However, both scored their biggest win at a mile. Arazi's sire, Blushing Groom, won the 1977 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French Two Thousand Guineas). Three years later Known Fact, the sire of Sheba Little, won the English Two Thousand Guineas and was named that country's champion miler.
Congaree is the first foal from Mari's Sheba. He was named after the Congaree River which runs through Columbia, South Carolina. The McNairs met in that city while attending separate colleges there. Mari's Sheba is kept at Stonerside's breeding base outside Paris, Ky. She produced an Out of Place colt this spring, and is going to Coronado's Quest this year. Her dam has a Deputy Commander suckling and is already in foal to Touch Gold.