01/11/2004 1:00AM

Aloha Bold comes through in Colonel Power

Lou Hodges, Jr.
Aloha Bold wins the $60,000 Colonel Power Handicap by one length over Ole Rebel at Fair Grounds on Sunday.

NEW ORLEANS - When the owner Michael Cooper and trainer Wes Hawley stepped up and claimed Aloha Bold for $75,000 last Jan. 31, they hoped for a stakes horse. Nearly a year later, they got one, as Aloha Bold won the $60,000 Handicap by a length over Ole Rebel on Sunday at Fair Grounds.

But this hardly was the path Cooper and Hawley had plotted. Before Aloha Bold started even once for them, he came back from a workout with a fractured knee.

"The vet told me he'd never race again," Hawley said.

But after five months of farm rest, Aloha Bold was back in business. X-rays showed his knee had completely healed, and Hawley started getting the horse ready. In his comeback he finished third with a tough trip in a Keeneland allowance race, ran second to Posse in the Thanksgiving Handicap here, performances Hawley described as "winning type of races."

Then, another setback. Aloha Bold came out of a third-place finish in a Dec. 20 allowance race with a lung infection. But that problem quickly cleared up, and Aloha Bold broke through in the Colonel Power. Pressing the pace of Premium Saltine and Taxicat, who started off with a quarter-mile in 22.07 seconds, Aloha Bold raced prominently on the outside. He loomed up partway around the far turn, took over at the quarter-pole, and ran straight and strong to the finish, going six furlongs in 1:09.99.

"It feels like he's doing nothing," said the winning jockey, Lonnie Meche. "You've got so much horse under you. He's just waiting for you to ask him to run, then he really accelerates."

Aloha Bold paid $11.60 to win, while Ole Rebel easily held off El Ruller for second. Saintly Look, the 9-5 favorite, turned in a very disappointing effort, racing near the back of the field from the start and finishing a distant eighth.