Updated on 09/17/2011 10:51AM

Congaree wins San Antonio Handicap

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ARCADIA, Calif. - At the pace of a stakes win per month, Congaree is quickly ascending to the top of the nation's handicap division.

In late November, Congaree won the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct and followed with a convincing win in the San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 4.

On Sunday, facing a tougher field, Congaree won this third consecutive major race in the $250,000 at Santa Anita. Behind him were such notable handicap horses as Milwaukee Brew, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October and Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of the Goodwood Handicap last year.

The victory served further notice that Congaree will be an important horse through 2003.

"He's changed," trainer Bob Baffert said. "If you look at him physically, he's a tank now. For some reason, he's relaxing and I'm glad we've figured him out."

Congaree was the 123-pound topweight in the San Antonio, spotting the field three to 11 pounds.

Ridden by Jerry Bailey, Congaree was always close to the pace. He was second for the first six furlongs, following pacesetter Fleetstreet Dancer through early fractions of 23.25 and 46.53 seconds.

Bailey moved Congaree closer on the final turn, guiding his mount to the lead entering the stretch. Congaree pulled clear win by 2 1-4 lengths over Milwaukee Brew.

"I was watching the fractions and I thought he was going real nice and easy," Baffert said. "He's becoming an old pro."

Pleasantly Perfect finished third, a length behind Milwaukee Brew, and was followed by Piensa Sonando, Cottage and Fleetstreet Dancer.

Congaree ($2.80) finished 1 1-8 miles in 1:47.60. A 5-year-old owned by Robert and Janice McNair, Congaree has won 9 of 16 starts and $1,873,400. He was so heavily favored in show betting that he created a minus pool of $72,415.

Third in the 2000 Kentucky Derby, Congaree won the seventh stakes of his career in the San Antonio Handicap.