02/21/2007 1:00AM

Sam Houston: Lovell's filly clicks

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Trainer Michelle Lovell likes a project, and when Wild Encounter came into her barn last year, she was eager to figure out the filly.

Suffice to say, Lovell found out what makes her tick. Wild Encounter has won 7 of 11 starts for the trainer, her latest a 2 1/2-length win in the $45,000 Jersey Village at Sam Houston Race Park on Feb. 10.

"When I got her, she was a maiden," said Lovell. "The owners were real patient and gave me enough time to do the things that I thought were good for her, and that filly has said thank you ever since."

The Jersey Village was the second stakes win of the Sam Houston meet for Wild Encounter, who was a dead-heat winner of the $50,000 San Jacinto at the track on Dec. 2. She made her first start for Lovell in July 2006 and finished third in a $10,000 maiden claiming race. One start later, Lovell moved Wild Encounter to turf, where she has raced exclusively since, and she was a 5 1/2-length maiden winner for a claiming price of $30,000.

Lovell said that when Wild Encounter first came to the barn, she and owners Lucas Downs and Agave Racing Stable decided to give her some time, and sent her to a farm with Lovell's husband, Casey Lovell.

"We sent her to Casey, and we worked with her, and just got her happy," said Lovell.

Michelle Lovell began training in 2004, and in a few short years her stable has grown from eight horses to 48. She ranks fourth in the Sam Houston standings, and came into the meet off a big meet at Retama Park. She won 26 races from 75 starts to finish second in the Retama trainer standings to perennial leader Danny Pish. At one point during the Retama meet, Lovell won at least one race a card for six straight cards last September.

"We had a great meet at Retama, and we had about 14 or 15 horses at Remington, so we did good not having all of our horses there," said Lovell. "They're all here right now. We have a lot of up-and-coming, young horses. We have some hard-knocking horses, but lots of young horses."

Lovell trains a large mix of homebreds and horses purchased by clients.

"We're really not a claiming stable," she said. "I don't study people's horses. We worry about our own and do the best that we can.

"We've got numbers, but we don't train them as numbers. Every one of them has a nickname in our barn, and they're very loved by all our grooms."

Lovell, a former jockey who rode as Michelle Hanley, said the next stakes goal for Wild Encounter at Sam Houston is the $50,000 Jersey Lilly for fillies and mares on turf April 7.