Trainer Richard Schosberg wasn't looking beyond the six-furlong maiden special weight race in which he had entered Affirmed Success on May 9, 1997. He just wanted a good effort from the gelding in his first career start. "I remember that race like it was yesterday," Schosberg said. "I'll
never forget it--(jockey) Jorge (Chavez) screaming 'look out' down the backstretch because Affirmed Success was running through horses in the first quarter mile. He was so full of energy. (Chavez) was just trying to hold on."Despite some anxious moments early on for both Schosberg and Chavez, Affirmed Success wound up winning comfortably. No one, however, would have been able to predict the journey that began that Sunday afternoon at Aqueduct.Nearly six years, 41 races and three Breeders' Cup appearances later, Affirmed Success remarkably remains a fixture at the sport's highest level of competition. Owner Albert Fried Jr.'s homebred simply loves the game.This Saturday, the venerable nine-year-old has a rare opportunity to win back-to-back runnings of Aqueduct's $350,000 Carter Handicap (gr. I) and build upon his $2.2 million in earnings. Run at seven furlongs, the Carter Handicap is part of Wood Memorial Day at Aqueduct, and has attracted an outstanding field including Peeping Tom, the 2001 Carter champ and Congaree, arguably the nation's leading older horse and winner of the Grade 1 Cigar Mile here last November.The 103rd Carter Handicap, scheduled to go as race nine on Saturday's 10-race card, is the co-feature with the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds. The Carter is the final leg of a Pick 3 linking all three of Aqueduct's graded stakes on Saturday: the Grade 3 $150,000 Bay Shore for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs, the Wood Memorial and the Carter. Affirmed Success, who has won at least one graded stake at age four, five, six, seven, eight and nine, enters Saturday's Carter the same way he entered the race last year - on the heels of a six-furlong victory in the Toboggan Handicap. If he succeeds in defending his title, Affirmed Success will join the likes of Audacious (1920-'21); Osmand (1928-'29); Flying Heels (1930-'31); and the mighty Forego (1974-'75) as the only repeat Carter winners.
Congaree is a multiple Grade 1 winner over Aqueduct's main track and is currently in the best form of his life. Aldebaran is a consistent Grade 1 performer entering the race off an eye-catching win in Santa Anita's Grade 1 San Carlos.Peeping Tom won this race two years ago and is currently among the East Coast's top sprinters.Stonerside Stable's Congaree appears the horse to beat. An earner of more than $2 million for trainer Bob Baffert, Congaree has only run twice at Aqueduct, but has managed to win the 2001 Wood Memorial and 2002 Cigar Mile. This year, Congaree owns victories in a pair of Grade 2 races, the San Antonio and San Pasqual at Santa Anita. Five weeks ago he was beaten a head by Milwaukee Brew in the Grade
1 Santa Anita Handicap going 10 furlongs. He is the Carter's 122-pound highweight under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens."I'm looking forward to getting him back to Aqueduct," Baffert said. "He loves that track. The racing secretary thinks a lot of him."Flaxman Holdings' Aldebaran ran in five Grade 1 races last season and earned more than $430,000. The problem was, Aldebaran preferred settling for minor awards.In eight starts last year, Aldebaran earned only one win - in an optional claiming race - and finished second six times. Now five, Aldebaran might have turned the corner. In early March, Aldebaran made his 2003 debut a winning one when drawing off for a five-length score in Santa Anita's Grade 1 San Carlos Handicap. The field for the $350,000 Carter Handicap in post position order:1. Peeping Tom, Pat Reynolds, Shaun Bridgmoham, 114
2. Congaree, Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens, 122
3. Affirmed Success, Richard Schosberg, Richard Migliore, 117
4. Papua, Mike Hushion, Jose Santos, 111
5. Aldebaran, Bobby Frankel, Jerry Bailey, 118