07/16/2001 11:00PM

Congaree may move up on turf


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - In the wake of Congaree turning Sunday's Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park into a very well-paid public workout, a couple of thoughts come to mind.

Just about everybody automatically assumes that Congaree plays second fiddle to Point Given in his own barn as well. And since there haven't been any recent statements to the contrary from the Bob Baffert camp, this is probably true. On the other hand, let's not forget that Congaree and Point Given have gone head to head only twice, and while Point Given was much better than Congaree in the Preakness, Congaree was tons better than Point Given in the Kentucky Derby.

But although Congaree may be Coaltown to Point Given's Citation, it is worth noting that Coaltown won a boatload of stakes races on the way to going an admirable 23 for 39, and eventually was elected to the Hall of Fame. Congaree may not have a pass to the Hall of Fame on the way, but even in Point Given's shadow he still has ample opportunity to carve out a highly successful career.

Moreover, Congaree has an option available to him that Coaltown really didn't have, and that's turf racing. Congaree is by Arazi, who is best remembered for his sensational Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory and his ugly flop in the Kentucky Derby. But Arazi also won many stakes on the turf in Europe, and Congaree is out of a mare who also won on the turf. All we have to do is go back one year to note that War Chant was second fiddle in his barn to Fusaichi Pegasus, and was moved to turf. On Breeders' Cup Day last fall, War Chant got the glory, and the money, in the Breeders' Cup Mile, while Fusaichi Pegasus got hot and dirty in the Classic. Funny things can, and do, happen.

A vote for Lone Star

There was an undeniable buzz at Lone Star Park last weekend. And there was a lot more to it than just the sizeable, and decidedly young crowd that turned out on Fan Appreciation Day for a very bettable 11-race card.

Everyone connected with racing at Lone Star was still aglow at how the track's presentation to host a World Thoroughbred Championships was received last week. People at Lone Star are very optimistic that the track will be selected to host either the 2004 or 2005 event.

The first two questions I had about Lone Star as a site had to do with the weather and the turf course. After stepping outside in the Dallas area on Friday, I found out what it must be like to step into a blast furnace. It was 101. It was humid. It was brutal. The cooler weather arrived as predicted on Saturday. It dropped all the way down to 96. But in late October and early November, the average high temperature in north central Texas is in the 70's, which is entirely manageable.

As for the turf course, I worried about the dimensions, and whether there would be anything left of it after being exposed to the local extreme summer weather conditions. It turns out that Lone Star's turf course has the identical dimensions of Santa Anita's course, and its blend of grass actually peaks right around Cup time.

Of course, there are many other questions, some a lot more complex, which have to be answered before a new host track like Lone Star is selected. Apparently, a lot of those questions were answered successfully last week. Given that, I don't see why a track like Lone Star shouldn't get the Championships in four years or so. Part of what makes the event special is that it is a moveable feast. Part of the way I remember Breeders' Cup races is by recalling them by the track they were run at: "Wasn't that Juvenile at Churchill?" or "I'll never forget that Turf at Gulfstream."

I acknowledge the importance of Churchill Downs being a semi-regular host of the event. Few, if any, tracks do such big race days as well, and few communities respond to big race days the way Louisville does. It is also important that an Eastern track be in regular rotation. And, it is downright wrong for a Southern California track not to be in a regular rotation, and that means any Southern California track if Santa Anita continues to act as if it doesn't want it.

But I think there should be one other regular rotation spot, and that should be for a new host track, like Lone Star, every four years or so. True, you would eventually run out of suitable new host track candidates, but when you do, you could revisit those previously new host tracks that handled the event successfully. A beautiful, majestic track like Arlington Park and the World Thoroughbred Championships are a perfect match, and it would be great if Arlington is awarded the 2002 Cup.

Considering the energy of the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, I bet the locals would respond to the event very much as the people of Louisville do. How about considering other tracks, even one equipped to race at night, as Lone Star Park is.

How about a World Thoroughbred Championships in prime time? Now that would be an experiment well worth trying. But, it won't happen unless the rotation of tracks becomes less narrow.