Congaree remained perfect from three starts at Aqueduct -- all graded stakes -- winning Saturday's $350,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) by 3 1/2 lengths over Aldebaran. The win in the seven-furlong race also marks his first in a sprint.
"Running back at seven-eighths after a tough mile and a quarter race is one of those moves that, if it works out, you look good. If it doesn't, you look like an idiot," said trainer Bob Baffert. "But Congaree is a great horse. He can sprint, go long, whatever it takes."
Congaree made his fourth career start and first in a stakes at Aqueduct in the 2001 Wood Memorial (gr. II), which he won by 2 3/4 lengths over subsequent Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. He returned to the New York track last fall, winning the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) by 5 1/2 lengths over Aldebaran. Scattered around his Aqueduct starts have been wins in five graded stakes and a narrow loss in last month's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I).
In the Carter, Congaree dueled early with defending champion Affirmed Success, edged clear of that rival following a :45.51 half-mile on the muddy track, then drew away from the field as Aldebaran closed from far back to earn the place spot. Peeping Tom finished third, followed by Papua and Affirmed Success. Under Gary Stevens, Congaree stopped the timer at 1:21.48.
"It looks like the rail was the spot to be from the three-eighths pole home, but I had two horses break from the inside earlier today and it was like a quagmire on the backstretch," said Stevens. "The inside is not where you want to be on the backstretch, so I was a little concerned breaking down inside. I got to ease him out a bit on the backside into a better path."
"I just can't beat that horse," said jockey Jerry Bailey, who rode Aldebaran and who rode Congaree in his four most recent races prior to Saturday. "I've ridden him a few times and know how good he really is. Bobby (Frankel) had already decided he was running here before Baffert did. My horse ran huge. We were second best."
As the 4-5 favorite, Congaree paid $3.60, $2.30 and $2.10. Aldebaran returned $2.50 and $2.10. Peeping Tom paid $2.10 to show. The winning exacta combination paid $7.10.
Stonerside Stable's homebred Congaree (Arazi -- Mari's Sheba, by Mari's Book) earned $210,000 for the win, his 10th in 18 career starts.
"A race like the Met Mile could certainly be on his dance card, but I am not pointing this horse to any specific race," said Baffert. "He is only going to run when he tells me he is ready to run. When he gives me that super twitch of his ear and looks me in the eye, I'll find a race for him." (Chart, Equibase