11/21/2003 12:00AM

Congaree, Ashado beatable chalks


PHOENIX - Thanksgiving week offers a smorgasbord of stakes for nearly every division, and while many a championship already has been determined, there still is some prestige and big money out there. So let's look at Thanksgiving weekend's Saturday races.

Cigar Mile

Is Congaree the best horse in the race? Absolutely. Is Congaree best at a mile? Absolutely. Is betting Congaree the best way to go? Absolutely not.

Everybody can see how good he is, so don't be shocked if Congaree is something like 2-5. Congaree may well romp, and he's certainly one to play prominently in the pick threes, fours, and sixes, but as far as wagering on this race, there may be another way to go.

That's because Congaree, for all his talent, is still being asked to do a lot. He left it all out there when he finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He ran his guts out, and was in the thick of it to the final half-furlong. Now, just a month later, he's asked to ship cross country and beat a decent band of horses. If Congaree is going to be beaten going a mile, this is the time.

And to beat him why look any further than Bobby Frankel? The Frankel-trained Midas Eyes had an impossible task in the BC Sprint, and he finished eighth. Midas Eyes hadn't run since June 7, on the Belmont Stakes undercard, and for a while it looked as if he wasn't going to make the BC Sprint. The fact he made it to the race was encouraging, but the deck was stacked against him.

This time he figures to be more fit with the Sprint under his belt, and it's conceivable he can make the lead and play keep away, as Congaree, coming out of longer races, might not have his usual sensational zip and might instead play a stalking game.


Ashado converted many to believers with her terrific BC Juvenile Fillies runner-up effort. Before that race, many, myself included, thought her reputation was overblown, and that her so-so run in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont showed a weakness as she went beyond a mile.

But, like Congaree, Ashado laid it all out at in the Juvenile Fillies. We're talking about a 2-year-old filly. Will she recover from such an effort, and ship back across the country, and still have enough to handle some upstarts going 1 1/8 miles, which might be pushing it for her distance-wise?

If you're as skeptical as I am, you have an alternative. Trained by Shug McGaughey, La Reina is bred to relish a distance, being by 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy out of champion and top-class distance mare Queena. She comes into this on the upswing. She graduated easily in September, was freshened, and for her first try versus winners went in the Grade 3 Tempted at a mile at Aqueduct. From her rail draw she was eager early, rushing up inside to be right on a brisk pace. It looked as though she had done too much too soon on the far turn, but she exploded clear in the stretch and won, earning a Beyer of 90. That puts her on par with Ashado's top Beyer, but with room to improve.


I've always liked what El Prado Rob has shown for trainer Nick Zito. A son of El Prado (who is also the sire of Medaglia d'Oro), El Prado Rob is progressing nicely. He was fourth in the Grade 3 Saratoga Special, third in the Grade 1 Futurity, and an easy winner of a one-other-than allowance at Keeneland. As the furlongs have added up, he's done better. He can put a cherry on top of his year in this 1 1/8-mile race.


Finally, we move out West, where for the most part the middle-distance turf horses have been taking turns beating each other. Special Ring, Touch of the Blues, Sarafan, Redattore, and others have made their mark, but trainer Wally Dollase appears to have an emerging force in Irish Warrior. He's not a well-known name, but "effort" is his middle name, and he has developed nicely in recent months.

It started with a third to Candy Ride and Special Ring in the Grade 2 American, then a third when Special Ring freaked in the Grade 1 Eddie Read. Irish Warrior then won the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap, was a good third in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch (to Storming Home and Johar), and topped it off with a big fourth in the BC Mile.

Though he faces such toughies as Redattore and Century City, he can steal the spotlight.