07/10/2003 11:00PM

Piensa Sonando looks good as, well, gold


PHOENIX - Three big stakes. Three heavy favorites. They all win, right? Not necessarily. Sunday's Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup, Grade 2 Swaps, and Grade 2 A Gleam don't have to be all chalk.

Hollywood Gold Cup

Congaree is a good horse. No, he's a real good horse. In fact, from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles he may well be the best horse to come along since Precisionist, a comparison I don't toss around lightly.

But Congaree deserves it. He has been nothing short of dazzling since last fall, romping in races like the Cigar Mile, San Pasqual, San Antonio, and Carter handicaps. He lost the Met Mile after a needless duel with Najran, but he never looked like himself in that race.

But Congaree's most important race regarding how he will run in the Gold Cup was his runner-up effort to Milwaukee Brew in the

1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap.

Congaree handles 1 1/4 miles. We know that from his fine third in the Kentucky Derby and his head loss to Milwaukee Brew at Santa Anita March 1. But it's not his best game.

The distance of Sunday's race may allow someone to jump up and nail him. It also doesn't help that speedsters Western Pride and Golden Ticket will be with him early. Even if Congaree stalks, as he did in the Derby and Santa Anita Handicap, furlong number 10 may still be too much for him.

Harlan's Holiday? Very nice horse indeed, and you can forgive the Brooklyn disaster last time at Belmont. The race was run in soup, as it poured in New York that day. Harlan's Holiday's head was turned at the start, and he gave the rest of the field about five lengths.

Harlan's Holiday skipped last week's Grade 1 Suburban at Belmont, likely a good move in light of the way Mineshaft won. Harlan's Holiday's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he thinks the horse is better at the two-turn Gold Cup than the one-turn Suburban. But now Harlan's Holiday has to ship across country and race on an unfamiliar track. At 5-2, he's no bargain.

Kudos to Kudos for always firing. Trouble is, he needs all the breaks in terms of pace and traffic, and let's face it - if a real Grade 1 horse shows up and runs his race, Kudos is likely to be left behind.

The interesting horse is Piensa Sonando. He has a lot to prove, but may well be a horse on the verge of a breakthrough. Racing for the first time with blinkers in the Grade 2 Californian, he made a big, premature move to the lead. It cost him, as he was weary late and Kudos nailed him in the final strides. He has tactical speed, and the Californian showed he has a burst. Now, if Gary Stevens can maintain position with him and conserve the burst, who knows, maybe at 8-1 or so he can pull an upset.

Swaps Stakes

I know I have been stumping for Ten Most Wanted all year long. But there's no getting around it - he is one fine horse, a burgeoning star who for a few strides in midstretch looked as if he were going to win the Belmont.

He returns to the West Coast for trainer Wally Dollase, who is all smiles in regard to the colt's progress since the Belmont.

"We're ready," Dollase said. "He just did a nice half-mile, breezing. Everything has been right on par with him since he came back from New York."

Dollase likens Ten Most Wanted to Deputy Commander, his sire, a late-developing 3-year-old colt who went on to win the Travers and finish second to Skip Away in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood.

"They look a lot alike," Dollase said. "He's a big strong horse, and he's coming around just like his father. He has been more professional in every race. He is starting to relax more in the first part of his races."

The scary horse in the Swaps is Eye of the Tiger. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, he finished a surprising fifth in the Derby. Hollendorfer brought him back in the Grade 3 Affirmed at Hollywood, and Eye of the Tiger romped by more than four, posting a 107 Beyer.

The Swaps is Ten Most Wanted's - but it isn't going to be easy.

A Gleam

There's little doubt You is the horse to beat in the A Gleam. After getting drilled by monster stablemate Wild Spirit in the Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont, she easily won the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. That race showed she's back on her game. Now she moves to likely her favorite distance - seven furlongs.

But she may not have an ideal trip. She landed the rail, and since she's a stalker that could lead to traffic woes. She's likely not quick enough to clear, or slow enough to take back and go around. It means rider Jerry Bailey will need all his guile.

The underrated Affluent may fall into a dream trip. She hasn't been able to handle Azeri, but she's a Grade 1 stakes winner going nine furlongs on turf and dirt, and going seven furlongs on dirt. In fact, seven furlongs could be her best distance.

The pace in the A Gleam should be brisk, and she's drawn outside and should be in the clear, so when Stevens hits the gas she can blast home.