Updated on 09/17/2011 10:01AM

Nice to have a fallback plan

Milwaukee Brew (left), becomes only the second two-time winner of the Santa Anita Handicap in the race's 66 runnings. Winning trainer Bobby Frankel decided not to run Medaglia d'Oro because of his weight assignment.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Whether he was scratching a leading contender in Medaglia d'Oro early in the week or successfully defending his title with Milwaukee Brew on Saturday, trainer Bobby Frankel was never far from the center of attention of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Milwaukee Brew made up for the absence of his more prominent stablemate by winning a hard-fought stretch battle from heavily favored Congaree, denying Congaree a fourth consecutive graded stakes victory.

For Milwaukee Brew, the Big Cap was his first win in six races, dating back to the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park in June, and he became the second two-time winner of the Big Cap in its 66-year history. John Henry won in 1981 and 1982. He was promoted from second to first in 1982 after the disqualification of Perrault.

For Frankel, the victory was all the sweeter after his decision to withdraw Medaglia d'Oro because of dissatisfaction with the colt's 124-pound weight assignment.

"The satisfaction is scratching Medaglia d'Oro and winning with this horse," Frankel said. "The wiseguys were saying I shouldn't have scratched.

I didn't want to say it before the race, but I can say it after that I made the right decision."

Although the race was an artistic success, the crowd of 25,160 for Saturday's program was the smallest for any running of the Santa Anita Handicap. Last year, the race drew 30,946 people. Two years ago, a crowd of 34,807 watched Tiznow win.

Handle figures also fell. Overall handle on the card, including satellite sources, was $20,989,509, down almost $5 million from 2002, when the handle was $25,215,059. It was the smallest handle for a Big Cap program since 1997. The lower figures reflect a general decline in the meet's average attendance and handle over last season.

The 66th running of the Big Cap will be remembered for the top-class effort Milwaukee Brew needed to defend his title. Congaree led Milwaukee Brew by a half-length at the quarter-pole, but the two were nearly inseparable through the stretch. The margin was a head and the time a respectable 1:59.80. Milwaukee Brew carried 119 pounds, five fewer than Congaree, and earned a solid Beyer Speed Figure of 116.

"As a handicapper, you had to love Congaree," Frankel said. "Our horse is probably a little better going a mile and a quarter. That last sixteenth we came and got him."

Now Milwaukee Brew has to prove that he is more than just a horse for the Big Cap. He was making his second start of the year, having finished second to Congaree in the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 2.

Milwaukee Brew, a 6-year-old son of Wild Again, is owned by Frank Stronach, whose Magna Entertainment owns Santa Anita. He will be pointed for a defense of his victory in the Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park June 14 and then the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 13. Last year, Milwaukee Brew finished third in the Gold Cup. He was later third in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Arlington Park.

Frankel said Milwaukee Brew had a slight temperature Sunday morning, but that later in the day, "it went right back down."

No rematches in sight

The first four finishers in the Big Cap are unlikely to meet in the near future. Trainer Bob Baffert on Sunday did not say where Congaree would reappear.

Baffert spent part of Sunday morning complaining about Congaree's weight assignment in the Big Cap and saying that the 5-year-old would not start again in a handicap, even though owner Robert McNair has stated he would like to run Congaree in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in May.

Kudos, who was third, and Pleasantly Perfect, who finished fourth, will not face each other in their next start. Both are trained by Richard Mandella and are being pointed for handicaps on April 5. Kudos will start in the Oaklawn Handicap, a race he won last year. Pleasantly Perfect may appear in the San Bernardino Handicap on the Santa Anita Derby undercard.

On Sunday, Medaglia d'Oro worked six furlongs in 1:12 in tandem with Empire Maker, a hopeful for the Florida Derby. Medaglia d'Oro is being considered for the $6 million Dubai World Cup, but Frankel is also considering the Oaklawn Handicap.

Shopping and slots visions of future

Stronach, the chairman of Magna Entertainment, cited the development of telephone betting and a poor economy as contributing factors to lower ontrack attendance figures for Saturday's program and the meet in general.

"Maybe the economy is not as robust as it was," Stronach said.

When asked what he intended to do to revive business at Santa Anita, Stronach reiterated he wants to add a shopping mall and entertainment center, which was first mentioned in 1999 but has not gotten through the city planning stages. He said he would support an initiative to bring slot machines to California racetracks, although no such legislation has been written.

"I would support it, but I think we have to be innovative," in marketing efforts, he said.

There have been significant cuts in staff size and promotional budgets at Santa Anita, but Stronach pointed out that he has spent a substantial sum in horse racing: "We are spending a lot of money. I've invested more money than anyone. I've spent $800 or $900 million."

Replay show missing from nightly schedule

One of the most glaring absences of the meeting has been the lack of a nightly replay program on broadcast television, which is one way to expose the general public to the sport.

A prime-time mainstay for many years in the Los Angeles area, a replay program is offered only on weekends on an over-the-air station during this meeting.

Track officials throughout the circuit have discussed implementing a consistent year-round program but have not reached an agreement with local stations.