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Analysis: Congaree enjoys an edge; 'A P' could pay with trifecta play


Can Monarchos repeat his stellar Kentucky Derby victory in the 2001 Preakness? Sure, he can.

But there is no guarantee that he will be quite as strong for the Preakness after running a sub-2- minute 1 1/4 miles in the Derby two weeks ago, or that he would be able to handle a slightly less favorable pace with similar ease, or a possible wet track.

Certainly, the blistering pace of the 2001 Kentucky Derby helped influence his performance. Almost every horse positioned anywhere near the red-hot early fractional splits finished the 1 1/4 -mile race rubber-legged or gasping for air.

Meanwhile, Monarchos and the second-place finisher, Invisible Ink, were under reserve before unleashing their well-timed rallies.

Heavily favored Point Given, who had toyed with a fast rival in the Santa Anita Derby and had hinted at being a potential superstar, may have been positioned too close to the boiling pace, but that alone cannot explain his relatively flat, fifth-place finish.

Not when his stablemate, Congaree, was much closer to the pace and was strong enough to remain in the race until passed by Monarchos in mid-stretch.

Can Point Given rebound with the performance we expected to see in the Derby? Of course, he can. But another weak performance may indicate a hidden physical problem, with explanations to come. Surely, the Preakness is a crucial point in this colt's career.

As for the other two Derby starters in the Preakness, Dollar Bill and A P Valentine, they were badly interfered with when various front-running types retreated in their respective paths, and both have rebounded nicely.

Moreover, both of these Preakness long shots could be helped by a rain-softened track. Dollar Bill, in fact, scored his best win on a sloppy track last fall and A P Valentine, an impressive Grade I winner last year, is bred to love a wet surface.

The pace of this Preakness should be realistic, with front-running Richly Blended on the lead and Percy Hope in close attendance, followed probably by Mr. John and Congaree, as the rest of the field spreads out behind. A confirmed miler with distance limitations, Richly Blended's best chance to last the full 1 3/16 miles may be a possible wet track.

Of the other new shooters, Marciano has had two good races over the track and a favorable inner post, while Mr. John, Griffinite and Bay Eagle were hampered by a severely speed-biased Keeneland racing surface in the Lexington Stakes last month.

Realistically however, Congaree holds a tactical pre-race advantage, given his rapid development, the overall speed he showed in the Derby and the safe, inside, covered-up position he is expected to have under savvy Jerry Bailey.

Yet, no one will be shocked if Point Given proves that he is much better than his Derby, or that Monarchos can find that something extra to repeat.

But with so little to choose from among these heavily backed contenders and the prospect for wet footing, it might pay handsomely to use a portion of my hypothetical $100 on a play involving longshot A P Valentine, as follows.

$40 to win on No. 5 Congaree.

$1 Trifectas. (On going to the window, state your intention to place a trifecta part-wheel bet.) Ticket A: No. 5 in the win position; with No. 7 Monarchos and No. 11 Point Given in the second position; with No. 1 Marciano, No. 4 AP Valentine, No. 6 Richly Blended and Nos. 7 and 11(except in the bets where each is placed second) and No. 10 Dollar Bill in third. (That's 10 combinations at a total cost of $10.) Ticket B: No. 5 in the win position, with Nos. 4, 6, 7, 11 in the second spot; Nos. 1, 4, 6, 7, 10 and 11 in the third position. (Twenty combinations; total cost $20.) Ticket C: Nos. 4 and 5 in the win position; with Nos. 4, 5, 7 and11 in the second position; with Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11 in the third spot. (Thirty combinations; total cost $30.)

Selections: Congaree, Monarchos, Point Given, A P Valentine.

Steve Davidowitz is the author of "Betting Thoroughbreds," published byDutton/Plume, and editor of the American Racing Manual.

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