04/06/2005 11:00PM

Rapid Proof favored over past champs

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Rapid Proof upset the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz last month at 31-1, but he will be a much shorter price Saturday night, when he starts in the $200,000 Connally Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap at Sam Houston Race Park.

should go favored in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, which closes out the meet and ranks as the richest offering of the season. He will face seven others, including Warleigh, who won the race last year, and Candid Glen, who has won it a record three times, from 2001-2003.

The field also includes Wire Bound, winner of the $100,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Handicap, and Herculated, winner of the $150,000 Sea O'Erin Breeders' Cup.

Despite the strong lineup, the one to beat remains Rapid Proof, who was up for a head win over A to the Z and America Alive in the Muniz, a 1 1/8-mile race at Fair Grounds on March 19.

"It was a real good horse race," said Hal Wiggins, who trains Rapid Proof. "The three horses that finished heads apart at the wire ran that way a little over an eighth of a mile. It was a heck of a horse race, and we were fortunate enough to get our head in front at the wire."

Rapid Proof finished third in the prep for the Muniz, the $125,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 26, and before that he was third in the Colonel E.R. Bradley, also at Fair Grounds. Following the close of the New Orleans meet at the end of March, he shipped into Sam Houston.

"He's been in Houston about a week and a half," said Wiggins. "He had a really nice breeze."

Rapid Proof worked five furlongs at Sam Houston on April 3 in a bullet 59.40 seconds. He will break from the rail under regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. and should get a stalking trip Saturday.

"I look for him to be third, fourth, or fifth early, not more than three or four lengths off of it," said Wiggins.

Wiggins, who has won the Connally twice before with Chorwon, trains Rapid Proof for owner-breeder Dolphus Morrison.

Warleigh took the Connally from the start last year, when he won by a half-length over Skate Away. This year, he has made two starts, winning the $50,000 Mardi Gras Handicap at Fair Grounds on Feb. 8, and then finishing fifth last out in the $125,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap, also in New Orleans.

Corey Lanerie has the mount for trainer Steve Asmussen.

Another horse of interest is Wire Bound, who is 5 for 11 on turf. He has won four grass stakes since May 2004 and shipped in from Florida for the Connally. Quincy Hamilton, the leading jockey at Sam Houston, has the mount.

* Proven Cure, who captured the allowance prep for the $50,000 Sam Houston Turf Sprint Cup, appears to be the one to beat in the five-furlong turf race that supports the Connally.

* The other undercard stakes, the $50,000 Jersey Lily, is headed by Dancing Liebling.