01/27/2004 12:00AM

Congaree concedes weight to all


ARCADIA, Calif. - Congaree has been assigned high weight of 124 pounds for the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Saturday at Santa Anita, the same weight he carried while winning the Cigar Mile by more than five lengths in his most recent start Nov. 29 at Aqueduct. Pleasantly Perfect, who will be racing for the first time since winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, was assigned 121 pounds for the $250,000 San Antonio at 1 1/8 miles.

Congaree was scheduled for a final pre-San Antonio workout Wednesday, while Pleasantly Perfect zipped a half-mile Tuesday in 46.60 seconds, the fastest of 27 works at the distance. As of Tuesday, five runners were expected for the San Antonio - Congaree (124), Pleasantly Perfect (121), Fleetstreet Dancer (116), Star Cross (113), and Toccet (112). Toccet, runner-up in the San Fernando Stakes last out, was supplemented for $5,000 to the San Antonio.

Island Fashion goes long, but when?

Next stop, two turns for Island Fashion, who won her second Grade 1 sprint of the Santa Anita meet last Sunday in the Santa Monica Handicap. Trainer Marcelo Polanco said Tuesday the 4-year-old Island Fashion would be nominated to the Feb. 16 Santa Maria Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. Her participation in that Grade 1 race is uncertain, however.

Polanco said he received specific instructions from owner Jeff Nielsen.

"We don't want to over-race her," Polanco said. "[Nielsen] said make sure she's rested for the next race, whether it takes one month or two months."

Early indications are Island Fashion emerged from the Santa Monica in better shape than from her previous start Dec. 27. Polanco said "the La Brea knocked her out, it took her a couple days for her to get her appetite back. But after this race she ate right up. For her next start, we're just going to pick the right spot."

Azeri's activity increases

The tempo of Azeri's training has increased in the past week, and she may be ready for her first comeback breeze in February, according to her new trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. He said Azeri has been galloping since last week, but cautioned there is no timetable for her initial breeze or her comeback race.

"She's been galloping right along, and been fine," Lukas said, adding that her first work will be "whenever she acts like she's fit enough. She's had 30 or 40 days of training; she'll probably start breezing around two months [since she resumed training]. I really like what I see."

Azeri was named 2003 champion older female Monday night at the Eclipse Awards ceremony in Florida.

Stevens picks horse over football

Presented with a choice of prime seats at the Super Bowl or a prime mount in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap, Gary Stevens will remain at Santa Anita on Sunday. Stevens will ride Boston Common in the six-furlong Palos Verdes, and from the manner in which Boston Common has been working since he won the Grade 3 El Conejo by a neck, it is easy to see why.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Boston Common's two sharp recent workouts over four furlongs (46.60 and 46.00, both handily) were even better than they look on paper. "They should have said 'breezing,' " said Mullins, whose confidence grew after his jockey decided to stay home. "Gary had front-row seats to the Super Bowl, and he's staying here to ride."

In the Palos Verdes, Mullins also will start Captain Squire, who could have shipped to Florida to face Shake You Down last Saturday in a $300,000 sprint "I didn't feel like going all the way down there to run second," Mullins said.

Bluesthestandard, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in his last start, is expected to start favored Sunday. Bluesthestandard, Boston Common, and Captain Squire are all assigned 117 pounds.

The expected field also includes Marino Marini (115), Our New Recruit (114), Summer Service (112), and Giovannetti (112). Because of the Super Bowl, an early 11 a.m. Pacific post time is scheduled for Sunday.

Met Mile long-range goal

The Metropolitan Handicap in late May at Belmont Park remains the main objective for Southern Image, impressive winner of the $1 million Sunshine Millions on Saturday. As for the Santa Anita Handicap on March 6, trainer Mike Machowsky said Southern Image would run in it "in a perfect world." Machowsky added, "I don't want to over-race him. If he's doing great, we'll give [the Big Cap] a look."

Sunshine Millions runner-up Excess Summer also will get a break. Trainer Jeff Mullins said "he emptied his tank, that's the hardest he's ever run, and one of the reasons we might give him a couple months off."

* Victory Encounter's timing is perfect. She won the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes on Jan. 18 after Island Fashion scratched, and things will not get much tougher for the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes on Feb. 14. Trainer John Sadler is pointing Victory Encounter to the La Canada, a race Island Fashion is expected to skip. Without any new shooters on the horizon, Victory Encounter is the early favorite.

* Star Parade, scratched from the Santa Monica on Sunday, worked an easy half-mile Tuesday in 49.60. Winner of the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park, Star Parade is aiming for the Grade 1 Santa Maria on Feb. 16.