01/04/2012 4:09PM

Aqueduct: Congo eyes rebound with a tag in optional claimer


OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Congo won all three of his inner-track starts last winter for Todd Pletcher, but not much has gone right since then for the 4-year-old colt, who figures to be a lukewarm choice in Friday’s $56,000 optional claiming feature at a mile and 70 yards.

Congo crossed the wire first for the fourth straight time when returned from a layoff Breeders’ Cup weekend at Churchill Downs, but he was disqualified after appearing to be forced out into the runner-up while between horses. Back at Aqueduct six weeks later, Congo was sent off as the second choice in a first-level allowance, but stumbled badly at the start and trailed throughout as Lubango wired the field on an easy lead.

The Churchill race “was a bad go all around,” recalled assistant trainer Whit Beckman. “He was going straight, and Katz My Song [the third finisher] was pushing him out into some incidental contact. The last race was atrocious – he just fell out of the gate.”

Congo, one of four entered for the $50,000 claim price, breaks from the rail as the 3-1 morning-line favorite over eight rivals, including Take a Walk and Black N Beauty, who are uncoupled for Chris Englehart; and Person of Interest and Washington’s Rules, an uncoupled pair from Richard Dutrow Jr.

“This is a little softer spot,” Beckman said. “Hopefully, he breaks clean and runs back to his form here last winter.”

Other contenders in a competitive event are Assured Victory, who has won both of his starts since a trainer change to Bruce Brown; Winaholic, coming off a troubled trip in a similar spot for David Jacobson; and the Dale Romans-trained Cinnamon Beach, who was beaten a length at 50-1 first time on the inner track and now picks up Ramon Dominguez.

◗ Among those entered in race 8 was Social Statement. Social Statement was claimed from Dutrow on Monday, and thus is rendered ineligible. That leaves nine New York-bred fillies and mares to contest the $54,000 optional claimer at six furlongs, including the entry of Stellaluce and Song of Broadway for owner-trainer Linda Rice.

Other contenders are Page by Page, freshened by Mark Hennig since a pace duel in a division of the New York Stallion on Nov. 13; and the Chad Brown-trained Yawkey Way, who led at the pace call twice at the fall meet in this kind of company.