Updated on 09/17/2011 9:40AM

Congaree in tough

A rapid early pace could help set up a late run from Kudos in Saturday's San Pasqual Handicap.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Saturday's $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita attracted a field befitting a race that leads to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1.

Of the 11 entrants, several appear win candidates, but the most logical is Congaree, the flashy winner of the Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct Nov. 30. Congaree, third in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, will not have a free pass in the San Pasqual Handicap, run at 1 1/16 miles. He will likely have to catch Hot Market, who can carry his speed over the San Pasqual distance.

Likely to be trailing Congaree early will be such proven late runners as Kudos, the winner of the Oaklawn Handicap last April; Freedom Crest, the 2001 San Pasqual Handicap winner; and Piensa Sonando, Fleetstreet Dancer and Nose the Trade, the first three finishers in the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park last month.

Giving the San Pasqual depth are Cottage, winner of three consecutive allowance races; Euchre, a handicap star in 2001; and Kela and Mercenary, both of whom were stakes-placed last year.

Congaree is the 121-pound topweight and likely favorite. Jerry Bailey will travel from Florida for the mount. He was aboard Congaree when he won the Cigar Mile by 5 1/2 lengths, racing close to the pace throughout.

The same tactics may not work in the San Pasqual. Hot Market is almost certain to be on the lead, and could set quick fractions. A rapid pace could help the closers and hurt the chances of Congaree and Hot Market.

The pace doesn't concern Bob Baffert, who trains Congaree.

"I don't worry about the 'Congo,'" Baffert said. "He's had plenty of time since his last race. He will be up closer. It depends on how he breaks."

Piensa Sonando could get an ideal trip rallying from the rear of the pack. In the Native Diver, the Chilean import closed from sixth through traffic under Laffit Pincay Jr. to beat Fleetstreet Dancer by a head.

"Laffit rode an amazing race, one of the best races I've seen him ride in a long time," Ron McAnally, trainer of Piensa Sonando, said.

Like Piensa Sonando, Kudos could make a late charge. He returns to racing following surgery to remove a bone chip from an ankle.

"I expect him to run well," trainer Richard Mandella said. "I'm hoping to get him on the handicap trail. You can look at his works and see I haven't drilled him. But he likes to finish and could run out of his mind."

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