04/04/2007 11:00PM

Mending Fences out to wire 'em in Connally


Mending Fences has stepped up his game considerably over the past few months, and on Saturday night is well spotted to win his first stakes in the Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap at Sam Houston Race Park.

He appears to be the controlling speed in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, and will break from the rail in a field of seven that includes Grade 3 winners Silver Tree, Embossed, and Fort Prado, who won this race in its first graded running in 2006.

The Connally, which is the richest race of the meet, is one of three stakes on what is the final card of the Thoroughbred season at Sam Houston.

Mending Fences last raced on Feb. 22, running second to multiple Grade 1 winner English Channel in a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance at Gulfstream Park. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103.

"His last race was his best race," said Marty Wolfson, who trains Mending Fences for Farnsworth Stables. "He made English Channel have to run a little bit."

Mending Fences won three consecutive optional claimers from Nov. 10 to Dec. 26 before finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Handicap at Gulfstream on Jan. 28.

"He was in front every step of the way, until like the last 20 yards," said Wolfson.

In his next start, Mending Fences earned his best-career Beyer in the February allowance at Gulfstream, and the strategy he used there will be the same one he will use for the Connally.

"He'll be in front," said Wolfson, who has given the mount to Quincy Hamilton. "He's got that Forestry in him, and he's very fast."

Embossed likely will be a chief threat in the stretch. The winner of the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup in September, he finished sixth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths, in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Turf in his last start, Feb. 24.

"I think he should have won the last race," said Niall O'Callaghan, who trains Embossed. "He fell out of the gate. He got excited in the gate, came out poorly, and was last all the way and made up a lot of ground."

The Gulfstream BC Turf has since become a key race, with the winner, Jambalaya, returning to win the Grade 3 Pan American at Gulfstream in his next start, and the third-place finisher, Einstein, winning the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz at Fair Grounds.

O'Callaghan said he is concerned about the pace scenario in the Connally, but he looks for a strong effort from Embossed. Larry Melancon will ride from post 2.

Silver Tree is the 119-pound highweight off his neck win last out in the Grade 3 Appleton Handicap at a mile on turf at Gulfstream. He gives six pounds to Mending Fences, and two to Embossed. Silver Tree is trained by Bill Mott and will be ridden by Roimes Chirinos.

Proven Cure, 13, makes season debut

Proven Cure will make his 13-year-old debut in the $50,000 Sam Houston Turf Sprint Cup, one of two undercard stakes supporting the Connally. He worked five furlongs in a bullet 1:01.20 in his final prep for the five-furlong turf race. He ran second, beaten a nose in this race last year. Hamilton has the mount on Proven Cure, who is trained by John Locke.

o Wild Encounter is seeking her third stakes win of the meet in the $50,000 Jersey Lily, a 1 1/16-mile and turf race for fillies and mares. Hamilton has the mount for trainer Michelle Lovell.