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Horse racing briefs

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2001

Congaree takes Wood Memorial

NEW YORK -- Bob Baffert has a double dose of Kentucky Derby fever.

Congaree took command midway around the far turn and pulled out a 2 3/4-length victory over favored Monarchos in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

Baffert, who also trains early Derby favorite Point Given, the best colt in the West, now has a win over what was supposed to be the best 3-year-old in the East.

"It's good to go hunting for bear with two bullets," said Baffert, the silver-haired trainer with the golden touch looking for his third Derby win in five years.

Under Victor Espinoza, Congaree challenged pace-setter Richly Blended for the lead with 5 furlongs to go in the 1 1/8-mile race, then stuck his head in front approaching the quarter pole.

Monarchos was in fifth, about 6 lengths behind the leaders. Though he closed ground in the stretch under Jorge Chavez, he was clearly second best.

But trainer John Ward was far from disappointed with Monarchos' effort.

"He ran the kind of race we wanted," said Ward, adding that Monarchos leaves today for Churchill Downs in Louisville to begin preparing for the 1 1/4-mile Derby on May5. "The speed held up, which we expected. He finished up really strong and galloped out well. I think he'll be even more fit for a mile and a quarter."

Richly Blended, winner of the Gotham Stakes three weeks ago over the same track, was third, followed by It's So Simple, Voodoo and Paging.

Congaree punched his ticket to the Derby in his first stakes race and fourth career start. The son of Arazi has won three in a row and earned $450,000.

"You have to let this horse go," Baffert said. "He's like his sire -- when he makes his move, get out of the way."

Baffert, who won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998, could have the top two Derby horses.

BLUE GRASS STAKES: A lightly raced colt who overcame foot problems, and a 54-year-old jockey whose career was near bottom just a few years ago, are headed for the Kentucky Derby after teaming up for a front-running victory at Lexington, Ky.

"This is kind of a like a dream come true," Laffit Pincay Jr. said after winning aboard Millennium Wind at Keeneland. "It would be great if I could win another Kentucky Derby."

Pincay, who revived his career to become history's winningest jockey (9,114 victories), has ridden in 19 Derbies, winning in 1984 on Swale.

Millennium Wind, who healed from blisters and sores on all four heels that were caused by a fungus, took charge at the start and controlled the 1 1/8-mile Grade I stakes for a 5 1/4-length win over Songandaprayer, with favored Dollar Bill another 1 3/4 lengths back.

Songandaprayer broke in front, then ran second the rest of the way. Dollar Bill was seventh with three-eighths left before rallying but had no chance of catching the winner.

ARKANSAS DERBY: Heavily favored Balto Star led virtually every step and reinforced his Derby credentials with his second straight impressive performance, an easy victory at 1 1/8 miles at Hot Springs.

Ridden by Mark Guidry, Balto Star was never pressured and coasted home on a sloppy track well clear of Jamaican Rum, who came from California.

Balto Star won $300,000 and pushed his career earnings to $720,190.

Despite breaking from the No. 10 post, Balto Star had no trouble grabbing the lead. He went through the first half mile in 45-4/5; confirming trainer Todd Pletcher's prediction that his horse could run 46 and change and keep going.

"It's a nice race to go into the Derby with," said Balto Star's assistant trainer, George Weaver.

BLACK HELEN HANDICAP: Perfect Sting, last year's North American turf champion, rallied to beat Clearly A Queen by two lengths in the $200,000 race at Hialeah.

KEENELAND: Breaking Story, a 4-year-old filly with seven career starts, collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack during a workout.

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