12/16/2004 1:00AM

After shaky start, Cascio heats up


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Bubba Cascio is a new face on the Fair Grounds backstretch this year, but he has quickly become a favorite of bettors. The red-hot Cascio has sent out 13 runners at the meet and registered 5 victories, 3 seconds, and a pair of thirds.

The numbers look even better when you consider that he started the meet on a losing streak. On the Thanksgiving Day opening card, he sent out Diversified Diamond in the first race, and the horse finished fifth. Cascio also had to keep his stable star, Gold Storm, out of the opening-day feature, the Thanksgiving Handicap, after the horse bled slightly following his final workout for the race. On the second day of the meet, Cascio saddled Big Doc in the first race. He finished last.

Cascio did not show any disappointment.

"We'll take it one day at a time," he promised.

And how.

Cascio's next runner was Classical Dice, who won the first race on Dec. 2 as the 4-5 favorite. Later that day, Cascio sent out Bellagio Bob, who won the fourth race at 5-1, and Out of Here, who finished third in the sixth race. On Dec. 3 Cascio sent out 31-1 shot Calverstown, who lit up the board after winning the sixth race. Then, on Dec. 4, Cascio saddled two horses and both won: Trually Wild in the fifth and Stirrin Up a Storm in the seventh. On Dec. 5, Setthehook finished second in the eighth race. On Dec. 9, Cascio saddled two second-place finishers, Hibernate in the first and Lights on Broadway in the eighth. Top Pumpkin finished third in the third race on the 11th.

Gold Storm ready for return

Meanwhile, Gold Storm has returned to his old self in the mornings. He breezed five furlongs in 1:01.80 Wednesday morning over the Fair Grounds main track and is ready for his first race since the Breeders' Cup Sprint, where he was involved in a suicidal pace duel.

Fair Grounds might not have a stakes race that fits Gold Storm soon. He could run Jan. 9 in the Colonel Power Handicap, but that race is for a $60,000 purse, while Gulfstream Park is offering $100,000 in the Mr. Prospector Handicap Jan. 8. On Feb. 12, the Taylor's Special Handicap offers a $100,000 pot, but the race has been switched to the grass this year, and "he can't even stand up on the grass," Cascio quipped.

Fans here may have to wait until the end of the meet, then, to see Gold Storm run in New Orleans. The March 19 Duncan F. Kenner Breeders' Cup Handicap has a $125,000 purse and looks like a perfect spot. But of course, that's three months away, and Cascio is going to take it one day at a time.

Bonapaw eased in sprint

Bonapaw turned in another dismal performance Thursday at Fair Grounds in his attempt at a comeback after being retired earlier this year.

An 8-year-old Sabona gelding, Bonapaw bankrolled more than $1 million in a career that included a victory in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Handicap. Thursday, he was eased at the back of the field in the 5 1/2-furlong allowance feature won by Joe's Son Joey. Unlike his first comeback race at Delta Downs, however, Bonapaw did show some interest this time, breaking alertly and tracking the pace to the three-sixteenth pole, where he gave up.