Updated on 09/17/2011 11:57AM

Congaree gets 10-furlong test

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Congaree seeks his fourth stakes win of the year in Sunday's $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Congaree left California for New York in early spring as the leader of the California handicap division. He's back on the West Coast now, and in the time he was gone no horse emerged to take his place.

Three different horses won the three major route stakes races on dirt. Two of them - Kudos and Western Pride - are among the six challengers facing Congaree in Sunday's $750,000 at Hollywood Park.

In the Gold Cup, Congaree is seeking his fourth stakes win of the year. With Congaree having finished a well-beaten sixth in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park

May 26, the Gold Cup is an opportunity for him to re-establish his status in the national division.

The Gold Cup field does not include divisional leader Mineshaft, or top horses such as Candy Ride, Medaglia d'Oro, and Milwaukee Brew. It does include the New York shipper Harlan's Holiday, who can give Congaree a stern test. The other starters are Golden Ticket, Piensa Sonando, and Rodion.

The Gold Cup is the ninth race on an action-filled afternoon that starts at 1 p.m. There are two additional stakes races on the undercard - the A Gleam Handicap, a sprint for fillies and mares, and the Swaps Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Following the Swaps Stakes, the sixth race, a retirement ceremony will be held for Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. For bettors, there is all that and a guaranteed pick-six pool of $1 million.

Bettors may need to use more than one runner in the Gold Cup, for which post time is 5:40 p.m.

Congaree has had a prolific season, winning the San Pasqual and San Antonio handicaps and finishing a head behind Milwaukee Brew in a memorable Santa Anita Handicap. In New York, Congaree won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs before his performance in the Met.

Jerry Bailey, who rode Congaree at Santa Anita, regains the mount. Gary Stevens, who rode Congaree in New York, rides Piensa Sonando for trainer Ron McAnally.

It will be up to Bailey to ration Congaree's speed over the Gold Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles. Congaree has never won at the distance, but finished third in the 2001 Kentucky Derby and just missed in the Santa Anita Handicap in March.

"If you move on him just slightly, he takes off," trainer Bob Baffert said.

Congaree will face early pressure from longshot Golden Ticket and Western Pride, the front-running winner of the San Bernardino Handicap in April.

McAnally is hoping for a quick pace, which would help Piensa Sonando, who finished second to Kudos in the Californian Stakes

June 14. He worries that Bailey and Congaree could be an unbeatable team.

"I think Congaree is the horse to beat because Bailey will be riding him the way he did at Santa Anita, meaning he'll take him off the pace," McAnally said.

Harlan's Holiday is the only member of the field to win a Grade 1 stakes at beyond a mile this year, having done so in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February. He later finished second to Moon Ballad in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Harlan's Holiday, 4, finished fifth in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap over a sloppy track at Belmont Park June 14 in his first start since returning from the Middle East. Trainer Todd Pletcher dismissed that result because of a bad start.

"Simultaneous to the start, he turned his head to the left and missed the break," Pletcher said. "He was standing perfectly. It was no one's fault. We'd had a heavy rainfall and you couldn't make up that on a sloppy track."

In the Gold Cup, Harlan's Holiday could get an ideal trip if Congaree, Golden Ticket, and Western Pride set a fast pace.

Kudos and Piensa Sonando will trail early, but are expected to be a factor late.

The distance will suit the Chilean-bred Piensa Sonando, McAnally said.

"He's proven himself going the distance in his home country," McAnally said. "I think the horse is as good now as he can be."

Kudos will be trying to give trainer Richard Mandella his first Gold Cup win since 1997, when he swept the first three positions with Gentlemen, Siphon, and Sandpit.

"I think he will prefer a mile and a quarter," Mandella said. "It's a matter of pace. If they go fast enough, they'll come back quicker."