Jockey Jerry Bailey may have a decision to make after riding Stonerside Stable's Congaree to a comfortable victory in Sunday's $250,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert.
Bailey also won aboard Medaglia d'Oro for trainer Bobby Frankel in Saturday's $400,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
With both trainers saying the Dubai World Cup Mar. 29 or the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) on Mar. 1 are the likely upcoming targets for their big horses, there could be a collision coming.
Bailey, who won the Dubai World Cup in 1996 with Cigar and with Street Cry in 2002, was diplomatic about the issue.
"I won't be around either one of them the next month but I'll rely on what Baffert and Frankel tell me," he said. "The way Congaree relaxes now, if he had a rabbit to run with, he might have an edge. Without a rabbit, Medaglia d'Oro and his high cruising speed might have the edge."
Congaree, favored at 1-2 in the six-horse field, won his fourth consecutive graded stakes on dirt with style, finishing the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:47.60. He defeated Milwaukee Brew by 2 1/4 lengths, with Pleasantly Perfect was another length back in third.
"If the horse is doing great for Dubai, we're going," said Baffert, who has won the World Cup with Silver Charm (1998) and Captain Steve (2001). "If not, we won't. So we'll let the horse tell us where we're going."
Breaking from the inside post, the 5-year-old son Arazi relaxed early as Fleetstreet Dancer bounded away to an early lead in :23.25 and :46.53 for the opening half-mile. Down the backstretch, Congaree tracked the leader from about two lengths behind.
As they hit the final turn in 1:10.32, Congaree, getting pressure on the outside from Milwaukee Brew and jockey Edgar Prado, quickened his stride, catching Fleetstreet Dancer and pulling away when they cleared for home. Bailey kept Congaree going in the stretch, however, as Milwaukee Brew rallied a second time after fanning wide on the turn and being passed by Alex Solis aboard Pleasantly Perfect, who was running for the first time in four months. Neither challenger mounted a serious threat down the stretch, however.
Prado said he was pleased with the performance of Milwaukee Brew. He rode the horse to a third-place finish in his last start, the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) on Oct. 26.
"The blinkers really helped him," Prado said. "He showed good early speed. Considering the layoff I thought he ran very well."
Mandella took Pleasantly Perfect's defeat in stride, saying both the World Cup and Santa Anita Handicap are viable options.
"He kind of had to make a couple of runs today (because he was shuffled back going into the first turn)," said Mandella. "I thought it was good, but if I had it to do over again, I'd tell Alex (Solis) to take him back a little further and make just one run."
Since a third-place finish in the San Diego Handicap (gr. III) in August, Congaree has won the Del Mar Breeders Cup Handicap (gr. II), the Cigar Mile (gr. I) and the San Pasqual (gr. II). His lone loss in that time came in a seventh-place finish in the Oct. 5. Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT), his only career start on the grass.
"This horse has changed (from last year)," Baffet said. "If you look at him physically, he's filled out. He's a tank now. For some reason he's relaxing and Jerry knows why he's relaxing and I'm glad we finally figured him out. Dubai would be the first option (for his next race), if he's doing great.
"He was always a good horse from the start as a 3-year-old and it just goes to show you, when you rush one like that into the classics, it's a lot of wear and tear there," Baffert added. "I'm glad they decided to keep him in training, he's doing great and I'm glad they (Robert and Janice McNair, owners of Stonerside Stables, LLC) were here to see it this time. We'll let him tell us when he's ready."
The Kentucky homebred collected his ninth win in 16 career starts. His victory, worth $150,000, swells his career bankroll to more than $1.87 million.
Congaree paid $3, $2.40 and $2.10. Milwaukee Brew returned $3.20 and $2.10. Pleasantly Perfect paid $2.10 to show. The $2 exacta was worth $9.