03/09/2005 1:00AM

New equipment woke up 'Fenceline'


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A change in bits has helped Fencelineneighbor recapture her best form, and on Saturday she will start as one of the top choices in the $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park.

The Azeri, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares that serves as a prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom, is one of two Grade 3 stakes that will be run here this weekend. The Sunday stakes is the $125,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap, a prep for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap. The Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap will both be run on April 9.

Fencelineneighbor, a winner of $567,257, has won 2 of her last 3 starts. She romped by five lengths in an allowance at Golden Gate on Dec. 20 while making her first start with a Haughton extension bit, according to her trainer, Mike Machowsky.

"She fell off form for a while in the summer and was really trying to bear out," he said. "It was more a mental thing than a physical thing. We put an exotic bit on her, and that made all the difference.

"It has extensions on it; it gives [the rider] a little more leverage."

Following the allowance win, Fencelineneighbor won the Grade 3 San Gorgonio at Santa Anita on Jan. 8, then went on to finish second in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at 39-1.

"She's been great," said Machowsky. "This looks like a logical step for her to me."

Machowsky said that with a good performance Fencelineneighbor could return to Oaklawn next month for the Apple Blossom. She was scheduled to fly into Arkansas from California on Thursday and will be ridden by Luis Jauregui.

Fencelineneighbor is a 5-year-old by Wild Rush who races for Amerman Racing Stables. Others considered probable for the Azeri include Casual Attitude, Colony Band, Injustice, Island Sand, and La Reason.

Machowsky has never started a horse at Oaklawn, but he traveled to the track twice when he worked for trainer Richard Mandella. One of the horses he came with, Invited Guest, was second in the 1988 Apple Blossom.

Machowsky said he might consider the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap later in the meet for Roi Charmant, a Grade 3-placed horse who won an allowance at Santa Anita in January and earned a Beyer Figure of 104.

Purge, the expected starting highweight for the Razorback at 116 pounds, arrived at Oaklawn on Wednesday afternoon. Other probables are Absent Friend, Added Edge, Gigawatt, Intelligent Male, Clays Awesome, Separato, and Witt Ante.

Round Pond shows promise

Round Pond was an impressive maiden winner recently for Fox Hill Farms and trainer John Servis, the same team behind top Kentucky Derby candidate Rockport Harbor. She won her maiden at six furlongs in 1:10.58, earning a Beyer Figure of 92.

Round Pond is a 3-year-old daughter of Awesome Again and the Trempolino mare Gift of Dance.

"The way she's run both of her races and galloped out, and the way she's bred, I would certainly think she'd be a two-turn horse," said Servis.

Servis said he will see how Round Pond develops as the meet goes on. She could become a candidate for a race like the $100,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup on the Arkansas Derby undercard on April 16.

Skeet retired to stud

Skeet, a 5-year-old son of Dove Hunt who put together two memorable stakes wins last year at Oaklawn, has been retired, said his trainer, Bob Holthus. Skeet is expected to stand at stud in Louisiana. Details were still being worked on as of Wednesday.

Skeet won 10 races, including three stakes in his career, and earned $371,953. He went on a tear last year, winning the $50,000 King Cotton and the $50,000 Hot Springs on dirt with Beyers of 107 and 108.

"He was an extremely fast horse," said Holthus, who trained Skeet for Fly Racing.

* Top Commander, who has won 4 of his last 6 starts, will return from a four-month vacation Friday in the featured ninth race, a six-furlong allowance that has a purse of $35,000. Roman Chapa has the mount for trainer Cole Norman.

* Tickets are available for the chaplaincy benefit dinner and auction. It will be held at Hot Springs Country Club on March 19.