08/09/2002 12:00AM

For these three, best is yet to come


PHOENIX - A horse's appeal, or lack thereof, so often hinges on the old axiom what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. Just as vital, however, is the other side of the coin: What are you going to do for me next? In this particular case a trio of Southern California horses come under the microscope.

Congaree: He went from the penthouse to the outhouse faster than you can say Stonerside Stable. Brilliant as a 3-year-old, there was concern how he would come back as a 4-year-old after an injury. At first things looked grand. His Lone Star Park Handicap win May 27 was his first start since being hurt in last August's Jim Dandy, and had everyone feeling all warm and fuzzy about his prospects for this year.

Since then, however, things have taken a nasty turn. He was no match for Street Cry in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs June 15. Maybe he still needed another race. On Aug. 4 in Del Mar's San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles things were going perfectly - for about 6 furlongs.

Despite the presence of other speed, Congaree looked like his old self. Comfortably galloping off to a clear lead through a half in :46.20 and the six furlongs in 1:10.36. Being a top-class and fast horse these splits were well within his reach, and visually he looked very comfortable. But just as suddenly, as he straightened away into the lane, he hit the proverbial wall. His three-length lead evaporated in just a couple strides as eventual winner Grey Memo roared by. Even Euchre, already spent from chasing Congaree through those early splits, plugged along to snatch second from Congaree, who finished a disappointing third at 4-5.

It seems safe to say this version of Congaree is not the one we saw as a 3-year-old nor what we expected to see after the Texas win. But all is not lost. He might not be a BC Classic horse at this stage of the game. Considering his pedigree - he's by Arazi - there are those who want to see him pointed for the BC Mile. But before a planned turf experiment in July, Congaree worked on the grass and did not satisfy trainer Bob Baffert. It seems wishful thinking to believe he will be able to run with the likes of Sarafan, Forbidden Apple, Special Ring, and whatever Euro beasts show up for the BC Mile.

I have a different take. Congaree is still a fast horse. The issue now is one of where he fits best. For my money I see little reason he can't handle the 6 furlongs of the BC Sprint. He's not as quick as say Xtra Heat or Carson Hollow, but his speed will have him in good position. Top-class routers with speed have fared well in the Sprint and there's ample time between now and Arlington for Baffert to target that race.

Congaree may next go in the Sept. 2 Del Mar BC Handicap at a mile. From there Baffert can continue to cutback on distance and crank up on speed for the Sprint. Then maybe he can stretch him back out to the Cigar Mile in the fall. And let's face it - at this stage of the game it may really be his only viable option.

Joharra: By Kris S. out of Colour Chart, Joharra is a half to last year's champion 2-year-old filly, the brilliant Tempera, who won the BC Juvenile Fillies for Godolphin. Joharra debuted Aug. 4 at Del Mar and while she did not win she hinted at all kinds of promise.

She was slow into stride - and trainer Eoin Harty has said his string of Godolphin babies is not cranked yet - but after biding her time early under Pat Valenzuela she put in a strong, sustained run to be a clear second. As yet there isn't much proven power in the 2-year-old filly ranks, on either coast. She's certainly bred to run on, and the way she finished in her debut validates that.

She is a bit behind when compared to her sister, however. Tempera had run three times by the comparative date Joharra made her debut.

The Del Mar Debutante this year comes up Aug. 31, and while Joharra has run just once and is still a maiden don't be surprised if she still shows up.

First, Harty doesn't really have time to get her to win a maiden race before the Debutante. Second, while she's just a maiden, there isn't any real power yet in this division.

Pleasantly Perfect: He has been a bit slow to mature, but this long-striding, somewhat oafish runner appears to have put it together. On Aug. 4 he won a strong optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles for trainer Dick Mandella. It marked his third win in four starts but more than the other victories this one stamped him a real comer.

He's by Pleasant Colony out of an Affirmed mare. He obviously likes distance and while it takes him a while to get into stride, once he hits high gear he can gobble up the ground. That was no group of lightweights he drilled either. Mysterious Cat, Jimmy Z, and Bonus Pay Day are quality animals. Pleasantly Perfect sat back early, then roared by to win for fun.

Anything shorter than this trip, however, may be asking too much, particularly as he now has to step up again. The Pacific Classic may be asking too much too soon, though surely 10 furlongs would fit.

Instead, Mandella can give him some time to recover, and maybe point for a race like the Kentucky Cup Classic Sept. 14 at Turfway at 1 1/8 miles. But wherever he shows up, this guy bears watching.