Updated on 09/17/2011 10:35AM

Hard to look past Congaree

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Congaree comes into the Met Mile with five wins in his last six dirt starts.

ELMONT, N.Y. - The Metropolitan Handicap is one of the highlights of the New York Racing Association calendar largely due to the highly competitive nature of the fields it regularly attracts.

This year's , which highlights Monday's 10-race Memorial Day card at Belmont Park, is still a much-anticipated event, but largely due to the presence of one horse.

Congaree is among the top handicap horses in training at any distance. But at seven furlongs or a mile, there may be none better, a premise Congaree figures to back up at a short price in the Grade 1, $750,000 Met Mile.

"He's in a different league with those horses when he's right, and he's right,' trainer Bob Baffert said Saturday from Southern California. "When he's on his game they're not going to beat him.'

Even the usually confident Bobby Frankel - trainer of Aldebaran, who finished second to Congaree in the seven-furlong Carter last month - has a difficult time making a case for turning the tables on Congaree in the Met.

"He wouldn't have beat him going a mile the other day in the Carter,' Frankel said. "If I run a little better and he runs a little worse maybe we got a chance. They don't always run the same way all the time.'

Congaree, a son of Arazi owned by Bob McNair's Stonerside Stable, has won five of his last six dirt starts dating back to September 2002. Three of those victories have come in Grade 2 races in Southern California, the other two have come in Grade 1 events, the Cigar Mile and Carter handicaps at Aqueduct.

Congaree's only dirt loss since last fall came by a head to Milwaukee Brew in the Santa Anita Handicap when he spotted Milwaukee Brew five pounds.

Congaree will attempt to become just the 11th horse to win both the Carter and Met Mile in the same year. Others on that list include Tom Fool (1957), In Reality (1968), Gulch (1988), Langfuhr (1997), and Wild Rush (1998). Kelso and Forego have captured both races, but not in the same year.

The same obstacles that Congaree cleared easily winning the Carter Handicap on April 12 are in play in the Metropolitan: weight, a wet track, and Aldebaran. In the Carter, Congaree carried 122 pounds - spotting Aldebaran four pounds. He handled the sealed-off track with ease, and beat the late-running Aldebaran by 3 1/2 lengths.

Monday, Congaree carries 124 pounds and will spot five pounds to Aldebaran and up to 11 pounds to his remaining rivals. Unlike the Carter, however, when he drew an inside post, Congaree will break from post 7 under Gary Stevens and figures to stalk the speedy Najran.

Najran is coming off a monster performance here on May 7. He won the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap, a race in which he covered the mile in 1:32.24, setting a Belmont track record and equaling the North American record for one mile. Naturally, there is concern about whether he can duplicate that race coming back in three weeks.

In Najran's only start over a wet track, he won the Perryville Stakes by 9 1/4 lengths over a muddy Keeneland strip. Edgar Prado rides from post 3.

Saarland, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled, finished second in the Westchester, and has shown the ability to handle an off surface. Trainer Shug McGaughey said he would love to see a contested pace between Najran and Congaree.

Proud Citizen, who finished second in last year's Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness, makes his second start since sustaining a fractured knee in the Belmont. In his return, Proud Citizen finished ninth in the Churchill Downs Handicap.

Peeping Tom, who finished second in the 2001 Met Mile, makes his fourth start in 45 days in the Met. He finished third in the Carter, fourth in the Churchill Downs Handicap, and third in the Bold Ruler. Peeping Tom has run well in the slop.

Longshots Wake at Noon and Justification complete the field.

Metropolitaian Mile Handicap Field

Purse: $750,000; 1 mile, 3-year-olds and up; Grade 1

1 Saarland J. Velazquez 114 8-1
2 Peeping Tom S. Bridgmohan 114 10-1
3 Najran E. Prado 116 6-1
4 Proud Citizen J. Chavez 116 10-1
5 Wake at Noon E. Ramsammy 115 15-1
6 Aldebaran J. Bailey 119 3-1
7 Congaree G. Stevens 124 6-5
8 Justification J. Castellano 113 30-1

* Odds by Brian Pochman