02/21/2003 1:00AM

Big handle for Sam Houston


The $3.53 million bet on the Connally Breeders' Cup Turf card at Sam Houston on Feb. 15 was the third-highest live handle at the track since it opened in 1994. The track's largest handle was in December, when a little more than $5 million was bet on the inaugural Great State Challenge.

That series of races helped boost business on the Connally card, according to Bob Bork, president of Sam Houston.

"It was part of the carryover from the Great State Challenge," said Bork. "With the exposure we received, people are very familiar with Sam Houston Race Park."

The Connally was held a week earlier this year to avoid a conflict with the opening of the popular Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and ontrack attendance was a strong 8,236. The plan for next year is to again run the race the second week in February.

* The free online handicapping contest put on by Sam Houston for the Connally drew 1,080 contestants. The first-place prize of $1,000 went to Dan Suty of Houston.