Pleasantly Perfect won the San Antonio in his 2004 debut.

Pleasantly Perfect won the San Antonio in his 2004 debut.


Pleasantly Perfect Blasts Off In 2004 Debut

Diamond A Racing's Pleasantly Perfect, with regular rider Alex Solis in the saddle, returned from his Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) victory in October in fine form, posting a four-length victory in the $250,000 San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita Saturday.

Congaree, ridden by Jerry Bailey and carrying top weight of 124 pounds, struggled home last in the field of four, beaten by more than eight lengths as the 2-5 favorite.

Pleasantly Perfect's winning time was 1:47 1/5 on a fast track for the 1 1/8-mile San Antonio. It was the fastest running for the San Antonio since 1992. Star Cross was second, a neck ahead of Fleetstreet Dancer.

Pleasantly Perfect went over the $3 million mark in career earnings.

Last through the first turn and down the backstretch as Fleetstreet Dancer and Star Cross dueled for the lead through fractions of :23, :46 3/5 and 1:10, Pleasantly Perfect toting 121 pounds, loomed up four wide on the turn for home. The 6-year-old son of Pleasant Colony gained a short lead with a quarter of a mile to go and drifted in during the stretch run. He pulled away from Star Cross and Fleetstreet Dancer with a couple of taps of the whip from Solis and finished under a strong hand ride.

"The other three horses wanted to go to the lead so I decided at the wire to take back so I could save ground on the first turn," Solis said. "On the backside I got him out of the clear, but I always had my eyes on Congaree. Congaree is a good horse. You can never underestimate a horse like that. He'll make you work for it. If you give him the chance he will come back and beat you, but not today."

Winning trainer Richard Mandella said he was relieved to see Congaree fighting for position early.

"I was worried that Congaree would open up three or four lengths and not be contested and that my horse might be like he used to be, galloping along behind," Mandella said. "But my horse is a different horse. He's getting smarter and stronger all the time and he put himself right into the race and that was the difference.

"There's no limit yet (to Pleasantly Perfect). He was sharp and fresh, he's getting stronger."

Mandella said the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 6 and the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) are the top considerations for his next race.

"Whether we'll do one or both of those we'll discuss next week. It will depend a lot on how the horse comes out, what kind of pressure this took out of him."

Fleetstreet Dancer, ridden by Jon Court, led briefly from the inside on the turn for home, but was unable to hold off Star Cross and Victor Espinoza for the place spot. Star Cross had the worst of it on the turn for home, fighting between both Pleasantly Perfect and Fleetstreet Dancer into the stretch. He lacked room behind the winner in the lane as well when Pleasantly Perfect drifted in.

"The race got messed up because everybody anticipated Congaree would be on the lead and he wasn't," said Darrell Vienna, the trainer of Star Cross. "My horse didn't need the lead, he came back off of it, he knew he shouldn't be on the lead and then he ran on again, which he's done before."

After floating out on the first turn, Congaree recovered while three deep to vie for the lead, continued wide into the far turn and dropped back.

Bailey, who rode 6-year-old Congaree to three of his biggest victories in 2003 – the San Antonio, the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) and the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct – said the horse was far from his customary self Saturday.

"I didn't have any horse under me," Bailey said. "He didn't have any spunk in the post parade."

Pleasantly Perfect now owns a three-race winning streak – he also won the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in October – since returning to action after a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) in March. The huge bay, who defeated Medaglia d'Oro by a 1 1/2 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Classic at odds of 14-1, trained brilliantly for his 2004 debut.

Mandella now has won the San Antonio six times, tying the record set by the late Charlie Whittingham.

Despite Pleasantly Perfect's victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic – in which Congaree ran fourth – Mandella was disappointed that his horse wasn't one of three finalists for an Eclipse Award as the top older male runner of 2003.

Mineshaft, who was retired with an ankle injury a month before the Breeders' Cup, was named the Horse of the Year, as well as top older male, with Congaree finishing second in both categories.

"I'm not saying he should have won an award, but he should have gotten more respect than he did," Mandella said after the San Antonio. "It's not like he won the Breeders' Cup because somebody else fell down."

Five of Pleasantly Perfect's seven lifetime victories have come at Santa Anita, where he now boasts a 5-2-1 record in nine starts and earnings of just under $3 million.

Overall, he's 7-2-1 in 14 starts with earnings of $3,099,880 for owner Gerald A. Ford of Dallas.

A $725,000 Keeneland September 1999 yearling purchase, Clovelly Farms in Kentucky bred Pleasantly Perfect, who was produced from the Affirmed mare, Regal State.

Sent off as the second choice, the winner paid $5.80 and $6. The Argentina-bred Star Cross returned $10. The $2 exacta was worth $30.60.

Nose the Trade scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)