01/30/2002 1:00AM

Can Vergennes get loose?


Tough prep for Connally Turf Vergennes, a Grade 1 winner of $741,374, headlines Friday night's feature at Sam Houston, a 1 1/16-mile turf allowance worth $24,000 that should produce starters for the track's $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf on Feb. 23.

Vergennes wired an allowance field in his last start Dec. 14, but will likely face more competition for the lead Friday from a couple of horses, including Schaumburg, winner of the $25,000 Buffalo Bayou Stakes in November and 2 for 3 over the local course.

If Vergennes and Schaumburg duel, the race could set up for another horse for course, Tuzinama Run, a closer who finished third to Vergennes when the two last met in December. Tuzinama Run is 5 for 7 on turf at Sam Houston.

* Texas Champions Day, an annual program of statebred stakes, will be run earlier than usual this year, on Nov. 16. In the past, the program has been carded the first week in December, but it has been moved because Sam Houston has been selected to host the inaugural Great State Challenge on Dec. 7.

By having Texas Champions Day in November, the best statebred horses from Texas will be able to race in the Great State Challenge, a $1.5 million program of races that will match statebreds from eight different states. Officials from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and several breed organizations were scheduled to tour Sam Houston on Wednesday and Thursday.