01/27/2010 12:00AM

Pool Play in Connally as a test for Big Cap


The Grade 3, $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf at Sam Houston Race Park on Saturday night could serve as Pool Play's springboard to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. He was one of 16 horses entered Wednesday in the 1 1/8-mile Connally, the richest race of the meet, although only 14 can run.

Pool Play is the 119-pound starting highweight following a season in which he won the Grade 3 Durham Cup at Woodbine. He will break from post 11 under jockey Patrick Husbands. Trainer Mark Casse hopes the race will be the start of a big season for Pool Play.

"This is a good place to begin," Casse said Wednesday. "He's trained extremely well, and I expect a big effort."

Casse said with the right performance, Pool Play would be pointed for the Santa Anita Handicap on Pro-Ride on March 6. The horse won the Durham Cup on a synthetic surface, but also is placed on turf, where he has earned some strong Beyer Speed Figures.

"The biggest thing for Pool Play is he just likes the ground to be pretty firm, so whether turf or Polytrack, I think that's the key," Casse said.

Pool Play, who has been training in Ocala, Fla., began traveling to Sam Houston on Wednesday. He was to van first to Fair Grounds, where he was scheduled to train Thursday. From there, he was to travel to Sam Houston, arriving Thursday night, said Casse.

"I wanted to break the trip up a little bit," he said.

The Connally field from the rail with riders is: King Dan, James Graham; Gretsky, Larry Taylor; Ernesto, Eddie Martin Jr.; Going Ballistic, Luis Quinonez; Acting Zippy, Robby Albarado; My Happiness, Bobby Walker, Jr.; Ablaze With Spirit, Shaun Bridgmohan; Red Rock Creek, Chris Landeros; Gran Estreno, Shane Sellers; Orientate Express, Glen Murphy; Pool Play; Baltimore Bob, Brian Hernandez Jr.; Fifteen Love, Eguard Tejera; and Real Appeal, Jose Guzman.

Ablaze With Spirit and Red Rock Creek will race as a coupled entry for trainer Steve Asmussen, while Fifteen Love and Real Appeal are coupled for trainer Jerenesto Torrez. Scrappy Roo, who won the Connally in 2008, and Boom Boom Bubba, were excluded.

The Connally will go as the ninth race, with a post of 10:28 p.m. Central. The forecast for Saturday is mostly cloudy skies. Also on the card is the $50,000 Jersey Lilly.