Stonerside Stable's 3-year-old homebred Congaree earned his first grade I stakes victory in his third attempt, winning Sunday's paceless renewal of the $500,000 Swaps Stakes by four lengths at Hollywood Park. The Bob Baffert trainee completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.61 on a fast track.
After breaking a bit slowly under jockey Gary Stevens, Congaree led the field through dawdling early fractions (:25.15 for the opening quarter-mile and :49.37 for the half) with Affirmed Handicap winner Until Sundown a half-length back. Congaree raced the next quarter-mile in :23.14 as he built a 2 1/2-length lead over Until Sundown. With minimal urging in the stretch, Congaree drew away to the winning margin.
"I don't think he's ever gone that slow early," Stevens said. "He was very professional, very relaxed throughout the post parade and throughout the race. He was smokin' the last part, but he should have been."
Until Sundown finished second, three-quarter lengths ahead of Jamaican Rum. Top Hit, Bayou the Moon, and Hoovergetthekeys completed the order of finish.
"He's quite a horse and he showed it today," Baffert said. "This is one of his best races. He had it all his own way and that really helped. When horses like that have their own way, they last longer."
Congaree earned $300,000 for his fourth win in seven career starts, boosting his career earnings to just under the $1-million mark. After winning the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial (gr. II) in April, Congaree finished third in both the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Congaree (Arazi -- Mari's Sheba, by Mari's Book) was bred in Kentucky.
"He's a special horse," said Stonerside's Bob McNair. "We knew he had great speed. The question was had he learned to relax? Today he did."
The prohibitive betting favotite at odds of 1-10, Congaree returned $2.20, $2.20, and $2.10. Until Sundown paid $2.80 and $2.10. Jamican Rum was worth $2.10 to show. The $1 exacta paid $3.90.
Congaree wore blinkers again after not using them in the Preakness.
"I put them on just to keep him focused so he didn't see anything from behind," Baffert said.
Baffert plans to ship both Congaree and Point Given, his other stellar 3-year-old, to Del Mar, which opens Wednesday. From there, Baffert will decide where each of them will run this summer. He didn't rule out a head-to-head matchup of the stablemates.
"We're not going to rush any of them," he said. "It's like the bullpen, whatever pitcher is warmed up is going in." (Chart, Equibase