03/04/2007 12:00AM

Rejuvenated Silver Tree takes Appleton

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With only two wins from his last 16 starts dating back to the summer of 2004, it seemed like Silver Tree's best days were behind him. But the 7-year-old son of Hennessy turned back time Sunday at Gulfstream Park, setting a course record winning the Grade 3 Appleton Handicap.

Sitting in midpack for the first six furlongs, Silver Tree was tipped five-wide turning for home by jockey Edgar Prado, and unleashed a powerful stretch drive to run down Steel Light in the final two jumps to win the $125,000 Appleton by a neck. It was a half-length back to Old Dodge, who finished second in this race last year.

Silver Tree's final time of 1:32.12 established a stakes record at the distance. Gulch Approval, last year’s winner, had the previous mark of 1:32.80. Silver Tree, owned by Peter Vegso and trained by Bill Mott, returned $7.60.

Silver Tree had been off since finishing fourth as the 3-10 favorite in the Tri State Handicap at Ellis Park last September. Mott said the horse wasn't moving well and was turned out for 60 days. After getting started on his owner's farm, Silver Tree returned to Mott's Payson Park stable in January to continue his training.

Mott thought he had him fit enough for a top effort, but even he wasn't sure if Silver Tree was up to what he did on Sunday.

"You never know, particularly on this type of turf course, because speed has been somewhat favoring here," he said. "You never know if you drop back five or six lengths and have to angle out if they’'e going to have enough of a closing kick to get there but he really did turn it on pretty well today."

Said Prado: "I know he’s been a nice horse all the time, but today he gave me goose bumps when he accelerated that quick."