Congaree survived a hot, pressured pace to win Monday's $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap by a length over Kela but trainer Bob Baffert said his best hope of getting the colt to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships might be moving him to the turf.
Jockey Mike Smith let Congaree duel down the backstretch with a couple of longshots through a half mile in 45.42 seconds. At the quarter pole, the 4-year-old son of Arazi edged clear and he had enough left to hold off Kela , Reba's Gold and Euchre, who finished in a close bunch for second, third and fourth.
The final time for the 1 mile was 1:36.35. Baffert said while that was a good showing for Congaree, it's not an indication that he will be going on to the 1 ¼-mile Classic at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, even if it is worth $4 million.
Baffert said jockey David Flores "worked him on the turf for me. He thought he handled the turf better. He can't go a mile and a quarter so if he turns out to be a turf runner, we can go to the Breeders' Cup. He's bred for the turf."
Congaree last year was third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He had been struggling this year against older horses.
A refugee from this year's Triple Crown wars resurfaced Sunday at Philadelphia Park as Harlan's Holiday dominated the $500,000 Pennsylvania Derby. The Ohio-bred son of Harlan drew off in the lane to score by 4 ½ lengths over Essence of Dubai, running 9 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:51.10.
Harlan's Holiday won the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland this spring, then ran an even seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness before going on vacation. Todd Pletcher trains Harlan's Holiday.
In other "America's Day at the Races" events with potential implications for the Oct. 26 World Thoroughbred Championships at beautiful Arlington Park:
$2 million Distaff
Lakenheath caught pace-setting With Ability in the shadow of the wire to win the $150,000 Arlington Matron by a nose. Your Out was 10 ½ lengths further out in third. Lakenheath, a 4-year-old James Tafel homebred by Colonial Affair, finished the 9 furlongs on a muddy main track in 1:50.78 under Chris Emigh. Emigh said it was tough to decide on the first turn whether to send Lakenheath after With Ability. He did, adding, "she hung in tough....My filly was getting a little tired and so was I. but she wouldn't give up." Winning trainer Gene Cilio, noting that Lakenheath likes the Arlington surface, said he hasn't ruled out the Breeders' Cup. "She's getting to know more of what she has to do," he said, so the big race "is a possibility, depending on how she bounces back from this race." He said he also is looking at the Spinster at Keeneland.
$2 million John Deere Turf
Ibn Al Haitham, winless on the main track in eight tries, made it 2-for-2 on the grass with a handy victory in the $100,000 Sarnac Handicap for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. The British-bred colt, owned by Sheikh Mohammed and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, raced near the pace and held sway through the stretch, winning by ½ length over Finality with Irish Colonial third. The 1 3/16 mile took 1:55.30 over firm turf. "I don't know what we're going to do next," McLaughlin said. "I have to talk to the connections and see if he needs to be placed back in quarantine before going back to Dubai. Or, if we are going to keep him at Belmont."
$1 million Mile
Band Is Passing rolled to a 2-length victory in the $150,000 Miami Mile Breeders' Cup Handicap at Calder Race Course. With Cornelio Velasquez aboard, the 6-year-old son of Pass the Line got through on the inside turning for home. Pices was second and Doowaley third. The 1 mile on "good" turf went in 1:37.78. Trainer Stanley Ersof said he will consider the Breeders' Cup if Band Is Passing turns out to have enough qualifying points or is chosen by the handicapping pool. "Right now, I'd say I'm thinking more about the Tropical Turf Handicap, which he won last year." That's Dec. 7 at Calder.
$1 million Juvenile
Lone Star Sky got back in the win column impressively with a 2 ¾-length win in the $200,000 Miller Genuine Draft Cradle Stakes. The Conquistador Cielo colt, with Mark Guidry up, survived a little bumping on the first turn, sat back off the early lead, then took charge down the stretch. Christmas Away was second and the pace setter, Payforaday, finished third. Lone Star Sky ran 1 /16 mile in 1:46.80. His only loss in four starts was a second to Zavata in the Saratoga Special, where Guidry was forced to take him up sharply on the turn. Tom Amoss trains the Florida-bred bay, who broke his maiden at Arlington.
In other Labor Day racing:
A filly, Ab What A Runner, won the $2 million All American Futurity by a head over Eye Opening Episode. Meteoric was third in the 440-yard event. Ab What A Runner now has won all three of her starts. She had set a track record in the time trials leading up to the blink-and-you-miss-it final event.
Super High led nine rivals through the whole mile of the $125,000 Solana Beach Handicap, winning off by a comfortable 2 ½ lengths over Stetson Lady. Elaine's Angel was third. Super High, a 3-year-old daughter of High Brite, finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.65 under Garrett Gomez. "We took the blinkers off today and it helped her relax," Gomez said.
Flying Notes hit all the right ones in the $125,000 Emerald Downs Breeders' Cup Derby. Jumping right to the front, the French Deputy gelding led the field into the stretch and flew off, winning by 11 ¼ lengths over World Light, who broke in the air. Blowin in the Wind was another 8 ¾ lengths back in third. Flying Notes finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:45 2/5.
The beanpatch wound up its summer meeting with Brazilian-bred Roxinho upsetting the $75,000 Tri State Handicap. Roxinho, with Lonnie Meche up, saved ground, moved out for running room and got home 1 length in front with favored Red Mountain second. X Country was third. Roxinho finished the 1 1/8 mile on the green course in 1:45.39.
Uluvitnunoit got to the lead at mid-stretch in the $75,000 Prairie Meadows Oaks and then was all out to hold off odds-on favorite See How She Runs in the final strides. The margin was a head, with Tejano Honey third. Uluvitnunoit, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Evansville Slew, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.75.
Ninebanks was along in the stretch to win the $100,000 California Turf Championship by ½ length over Surprise Halo. The favorite, Spinelessjellyfish, tracked the early lead but finished third. Ninebanks, a 4-year-old son of Smokester, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.05 and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said the colt probably will go to the Cal Cup on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Infinite Justice came from a stalking position to win the $100,000 New York Breeders' Futurity by 7 ¼ lengths over Tomorrows Banquet. The Sultry Song colt ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.86 with Aaron Gryder aboard. In the companion $100,000 New York Oaks, Princess Dixie caught pace-setting favorite Drama Queen with a furlong to go and went on to win by 2 ¾ lengths. She needed 1:45.56 for the 1 1/16 mile.