01/31/2004 12:00AM

Pleasantly Perfect takes San Antonio


ARCADIA, Calif. - A flawless performance by Pleasantly Perfect in Saturday's $245,000 at Santa Anita left winning trainer Richard Mandella wondering whether the 6-year-old has improved since his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October.

Pleasantly Perfect ($5.80) stalked the pace in a field of four and romped clear in early stretch to win the Grade 2 San Antonio by four lengths over 10-1 Star Cross.

"He's getting smarter and stronger all the time," Mandella said. "My horse is a different horse. There's no limit yet to him."

Fleetstreet Dancer finished third, a neck behind Star Cross, and four lengths clear of Congaree, the 2-5 favorite who was out of contention in early stretch.

Pleasantly Perfect finished 1 1-8 miles in 1:47.25, winning the fourth stakes of his career. The San Antonio marked Pleasantly Perfect's first start since a 14-1 upset in the $4 million BC Classic, also run at Santa Anita.

Owned by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing, Pleasantly Perfect, a 6-year-old, has won 7 of 14 starts and $3,099,880. The San Antonio was his third consecutive stakes win, a streak that began with the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap in early October.

Throughout the San Antonio, Pleasantly Perfect was near the pace, which surprisingly was not set by Congaree. The 124-pound topweight, Congaree was expected to lead early, but raced in company with Fleetstreet Dancer and Star Cross, who shared early fractions of 23.05 and 46.60.

Pleasantly Perfect, ridden by Alex Solis at 121 pounds, was within 1 1-2 lengths of the lead on the backstretch and rallied four-wide on the second turn to draw even with the others.

Mandella was worried that Congaree would be loose on the lead and that Pleasantly Perfect would be left with too much to do in the stretch, but that scenario never developed.

"I thought we were very vulnerable today," Mandella said. "There was a nice enough pace and our horse became part of it. I was surprised he was that much into it."

With three-eights of a mile remaining, the four runners were separated by a neck.

"I saved a lot of ground in the first turn," Solis said. "By the half-mile pole, I knew I had to be close. I knew I had to stay close to the Congaree. The only way was to go around him."

In early stretch, Pleasantly Perfect quickly took control. His late kick surprised Solis.

"I let him go and he was impressive," Solis said. "He's a lot stronger. He's been training better than he was before."

Congaree, a 10-time stakes winner, had no response when challenged on the final turn.

"I never had any horse under me," jockey Jerry Bailey said. "He certainly didn't act like the old Congaree."