Congaree, a 4-year-old son of Arazi owned by Stonerside Stable, will be trying to snap a three-year stranglehold by trainer Robert Frankel on the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on Sunday. At the same time he could give his trainer, Bob Baffert, his first victory in the event. In fact, chasing Frankel has been Baffert's role in the San Diego over the past three years, finishing second with River Keen and Prime Timber in 1999 and 2000, respectively, and third with Captain Steve last year. Baffert won't be at Del Mar Sunday to see Congaree, regarded as his top older horse. Instead, he's scheduled to be at Monmouth Park on the New Jersey shore to watch his Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion War Emblem try to win the $1 million Haskell Invitational. Congaree won the 2001 Swaps Stakes (gr. I) after also winning the Wood Memorial (gr. II) and turning in strong third-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). He returned from a layoff this year with a victory in the Lone Star Handicap (gr. III), then was unplaced in his most recent start, the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I). Carrying Frankel's banner in Sunday's test will be Stronach Stable's Euchre. The 6-year-old son of Personal Flag will be subbing for Mizzen Mast, who was expected to be the race favorite before going to the sidelines with an injury. Euchre will be trying to stretch Frankel's streak to four straight in the San Diego, following the '99 win by Mazel Trick and the victories in 2000 and 2001 by Skimming. The latter has also been sidelined by injury this year. The Frankel barn isn't throwing in the towel. Humberto Ascanio, the Hall of Fame trainer's longtime assistant, says he expects a big race from Euchre, whose history reflects a liking for a second race back from a layoff. For example, in 2001, he captured the All American Handicap (gr. III) at Bay Meadows under those circumstances, and he ran a very sharp second to Wooden Phone in Santa Anita's 2002 San Pasqual in a similar scenario. He comes to the San Diego after a lackluster fifth-place finish in the July 6 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. That followed a four-month layoff. "He has trained very well here. I think he's ready to roll. He should have no excuse," Ascanio said Friday morning.In spite of the presence of Baffert and Frankel trainees, the field figures to be very competitive.
The other contenders are are Bosque Redondo, Dig for It, Grey Memo, Investor's Dream, Nates Colony and Palmeiro. Sadler, trainer of Palmeiro, said, "We think he has a good shot. He's doing fine and we're excited about running on Sunday. It's a tough race. "We're taking one step at a time," Sadler said. "We'll see how he runs on Sunday. He's running against some really good horses. We have two options -- the Pacific Classic and the mile race [Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap] at the end of the meet, so we'll let him tell us." Stute, who took Grey Memo to Dubai to win the Godolphin Mile (gr. II), said the trip halfway around the world hasn't seemed to bother the 5-year-old son of Memo. "He's fine." This horse came out of the Dubai trip perfect. He's a very calm horse, he doesn't get excited, so flying doesn't take anything out of him. He's as good as he's ever been." $250,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II, 1 1/8-miles)
PP. Horse, Weight (Rider)
1. Euchre, 116 (Patrick Valenzuela) 2.
2. Congaree, 120 David Flores 3.
3. Nates Colony, 109 (Martin Pedroza)
4. Grey Memo, 114 (Eddie Delahoussaye)
5. Investor's Dream, 116 (Kent Desormeaux) 6.
6. Palmeiro, 114 (Alex Solis)
7. Dig for It, 113 (Brice Blanc)
8. Bosque Redondo, 118, Mike Smith.