01/02/2003 12:00AM

Connected catches a break

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NEW ORLEANS - His trainer said all Connected needed was a little racing luck. He finally got it Thursday in the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap.

Hemmed inside at the back of a bunched field turning for home, Connected found room at the furlong pole and rallied strongly under Larry Melancon to post a 2 1/4-length win.

"It was a question of if he could get out," said David Carroll, who trains Connected. "This horse deserved to win one."

Connected had no chance in either of his previous two starts. In a Churchill allowance race Nov. 2 Connected tried to play catch-up behind a seriously slow pace and finished third, and the same thing happened to him again here Dec. 8 in the Tenacious Handicap. Connected was pinched back at the start of the Tenacious and had no chance to catch the early leader, Rock Slide.

This time Connected got way cleanly, and though he raced last in a six-horse field behind Horrible Evening's half-mile time of 48.95 seconds, Connected trailed by less than three lengths. With race favorite Easyfromthegitgo pinning Connected along the rail on the far turn, Melancon had little choice but to bide his time and wait for an opening. He didn't find one until midstretch, but when a hole opened between Horrible Evening and Intern, Connected went through willingly and won going away.

Intern gained the place over a tiring Horrible Evening by three-quarters of a length. They were followed by Fighting Indians, Easyfromthegitgo, and E Z Glory. Connected ($9.80) was timed in 1:44.82 for 1 1/16 miles.