Updated on 09/15/2011 1:44PM

Congaree's one to catch

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
A P Valentine, under Lorna Vincent, gallops at Saratoga in preparation for the Jim Dandy, his first race since finishing second in the Belmont.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - In the spring, Congaree was playing catch-up to the rest of the 3-year-old division to make it to the Triple Crown series. Heading into Saturday's $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, it is the rest of the field that will be playing catch-up to Congaree.

Not that he needed it, but Congaree got a head start on the competition for the second half of the year by taking the Grade 1 Swaps at Hollywood Park in matter-of-fact fashion on July 15. That race, combined with his immense talent, make Congaree a strong favorite in the Jim Dandy, which is being run as a Grade 1 for the first time. Daily Racing Form handicapper Dave Litfin installed Congaree as the 4-5 favorite.

Congaree will take on six rivals in the Jim Dandy, led by Preakness and Belmont Stakes runner-up A P Valentine. Windsor Castle, winner of last year's Remsen, is the only other graded stakes dirt winner in the field. Indygo Shiner, a graded winner on turf, Scorpion, Free of Love, and Panamanian longshot Kid Rigo complete the field.

Congaree arrived at Saratoga on Wednesday afternoon and galloped nine furlongs over the main track early Thursday morning. But, this is not his first time here.

As a 2-year-old, Congaree trained over Saratoga's main track and recorded two bullet five-furlong workouts. He got sick before he was ready to run, however, and did not debut until September at Del Mar. Another setback following that race kept him away from the races until February.

When he returned, Congaree quickly ascended the ranks of the division and stamped himself a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender when he beat Florida Derby winner Monarchos in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Congaree ran two powerful races in the Triple Crown series, finishing third in both the Derby and Preakness. The distances of those two races may have been a tad far for Congaree, a son of Arazi, but tat 1 1/8 miles the Jim Dandy distance is perfect. He is 2 for 2 at nine furlongs.

In the Swaps, Congaree got away with splits of 25.15 seconds and 49.37 en route to a four-length win.

"Everybody felt they were running for second money,' said jockey Gary Stevens, who rode Congaree for the first time in the Swaps and who will be aboard from post 6 on Saturday. "The pace really increased at the half-mile pole, on his own, without any encouragement. The one thing I was impressed the most with was that in the races of his I watched, everybody could get him slowed down the first part but even when he wasn't under pressure he took the bull by the horns turning down the backside trying to run off. He didn't try that with me. He was very relaxed.'

Congaree figures to be on or near the lead Saturday. However, the addition of Free of Love and Scorpion to the field - to whom Congaree will be conceding nine pounds each - could make it tougher on Congaree up front early.

"To make any predictions whether he'll sit behind horses, I won't know that until Saturday,' Stevens said. "If someone wants to go crazy on the lead that's what I'm going to try and do. I'm going to ride the horse with a lot of confidence.'

The horse with the best chance to upset is A P Valentine. Trained by Nick Zito, A P Valentine, was one of four horses to run in all three Triple Crown races. After a troubled trip in the Derby, he rebounded to run a good second in the Preakness and was second-best in the Belmont. A P Valentine has worked five times at Saratoga, including a 59.80-second move last Saturday.

"The logical thing is, Congaree has a fitness advantage,' Zito said. "``Is A P Valentine fit enough to win? Absolutely. Because it's a Grade 1 I had to make sure I had him fit.'

Windsor Castle, who is 2 for 2 at Saratoga and who won his lone start at nine furlongs is a live longshot. He figures to get a solid pace in front of him and should be closing late.

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