04/29/2004 11:00PM

Congrats re-rallies to upset Perfect Drift

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With his pedigree and good looks, much has been expected of Congrats since he first came to the track two years ago. He has yet to reach the levels expected of him, but the benefits of patience are starting to pay off.

Congrats has reached a new peak at age 4, and there might be more to go. He returned from a five-month layoff to win a classified allowance race at Keeneland on April 3, and on Friday scored the first stakes victory of his career by bravely re-rallying to capture the $113,600 Alysheba Stakes Friday at Churchill Downs.

The Alysheba was one of four supporting stakes on the Kentucky Oaks card.

The Alysheba is a prep for the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap on June 12. Congrats showed he is ready for that level of competition by holding off last year's Stephen Foster winner, Perfect Drift, in the stretch drive.

After surrendering the lead at midstretch, Congrats ($9.60) re-rallied to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Perfect Drift, the even-money favorite, finished three-quarters of a length in front of third-place Kodema. Sarava, the 2002 Belmont Stakes winner, was fourth.

"I didn't expect to see him go wire-to-wire here," trainer Shug McGaughey said after Congrats and jockey John Velazquez completed 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy main track in 1:44.31. "In the middle of the turn I was about ready to throw my program away."

Congrats, an A.P. Indy colt who is out of the Mr. Prospector mare Praise, was bred and is owned by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm. He has now won six times in 11 starts, but this was the first time he had won back-to-back races.

McGaughey said Claiborne's Seth Hancock suggested Congrats get time off after his fourth-place finish in the Oct. 29 Discovery Handicap. "Seth said to put him away for awhile in the hopes we'd have a nice 4-year-old," McGaughey said.

Congrats and Perfect Drift are scheduled to meet again in the Stephen Foster.

"We've got a fit horse now," said Murray Johnson, the trainer of Perfect Drift. "This was his second start after a long winter."