Updated on 09/17/2011 10:57AM

Congaree best in Hollywood Gold Cup

Congaree gets his first career victory at 1 1/4 miles in Sunday's Grade 1, $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, winning by three lengths in 2:00.48.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Midway through Sunday's $750,000 , trainer Bob Baffert was afraid to look at the toteboard.

Congaree, his hope for a second Gold Cup win, had just taken the lead after six furlongs in 1:09.52, a pace Baffert feared was too fast.

"I wasn't looking," Baffert said. "I thought, Let's see how good he is."

It turned out that Congaree was very good.

Winning his fourth stakes of the year, Congaree easily handled a strong field in the Gold Cup, winning over 1 1/4 miles for the first time in his career.

The victory puts Congaree firmly on course for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, which will be run over his home track.

The Gold Cup victory completed an outstanding day for Baffert and jockey Jerry Bailey. Earlier, they teamed to pull an upset with During in the $400,000 Swaps Stakes for 3-year-olds.

But Congaree was the star on Sunday before an on-track crowd of 21,017.

Sent off as the 6-5 favorite, Congaree was always near the front.

Golden Ticket led through early fractions of 22.93 and 45.71 seconds, closely followed by Western Pride and Congaree. Bailey hugged the rail throughout and took the lead after six furlongs.

"When we turned into the backside, they slowed it up just a shade and he kind of got aggressive," Bailey said. "So I just decided to go ahead and let him go."

Congaree led on the final turn by 1 1/2 lengths over Harlan's Holiday, who had swooped past a fading Western Pride and Golden Ticket. For a moment, it appeared that Harlan's Holiday could challenge Congaree, but the rally never materialized.

"We were second best today," said Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Harlan's Holiday. "To his credit, he put in a sustained run."

Congaree was not threatened in the final quarter-mile and won by three lengths. He completed 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.48.

Harlan's Holiday held second, and finished two lengths in front of Kudos, who had won the Californian Stakes for trainer Richard Mandella on June 14.

Congaree, third in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, has won 11 of 20 starts and $2,733,400 for Stonerside Stable.

Earlier this year at Santa Anita, Bailey rode Congaree to wins the San Pasqual and San Antonio handicaps and a close second in the Santa Anita Handicap.

In New York in the spring, Gary Stevens rode Congaree to a win in the Carter Handicap and a sixth in the Met Mile over a muddy track at Belmont Park.

After Sunday's race, Baffert said Congaree has yet to return to his wintertime form.

"I probably shouldn't have run in the Met Mile," Baffert said. "I missed some time and the whole thing didn't work out. Gary took care of him.

"He's not at the top like he was this winter. The main thing is to have him ready for the Breeders' Cup."