01/11/2007 1:00AM

Mr. Trieste risks local mark


Mr. Trieste is the best horse in Saturday's $50,000 Winsham Lad Handicap at Sunland Park, and he returns to a place where he's unbeaten in four starts. Despite his presence, 10 runners have been entered to take a shot against him in the mile race.

Mr. Trieste, owned by R.D. Hubbard and James Helzer and trained by Gary Cross, has been a dominant runner in the Southwest for a couple years now, and his form in New Mexico even led him to try graded stakes engagements at Lone Star Park and Louisiana Downs last year. He found those waters too deep but is very much back in his element here. He has a terrific overall record of 15 wins from 27 starts and earnings of $579,590. He carries high weight of 123 pounds and gets a new rider in Glen Murphy.

Last year's Winsham Lad winner, Don't Strike Out, will try to repeat for owner Richard Kasuda and trainer Ray Carlisle Jr. A 7-year-old, he was in peak form here a year ago, winning two stakes at the meet, the Winsham Lad and the Curribot Handicap. He couldn't handle Mr. Trieste in a pair of races at the end of that meet, and he finished behind Mr. Trieste in a pair of Zia Park stakes in his last two starts. A 15-time winner, with six of those wins here, Don't Strike Out carries 121 pounds, including regular rider Mark Villa.

A possible win candidate is the up-and-coming Guiding Hand. A Chris Hartman trainee, Guiding Hand has blossomed in recent months. He beat restricted claimers at Remington Park in late October, and then romped in a first-level allowance race by over eight lengths there Nov. 6, posting a huge 97 Beyer. He returned in the Zia Park Derby on Dec. 9, and carved out a brisk pace before finishing second to More Than Regal. He has plenty of speed and certainly appears to have found his game. Ken Tohill, the longtime regular rider of Mr. Trieste, takes the call on Guiding Hand.