03/14/2003 12:00AM

Beau's Town sharp for tough test

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NEW ORLEANS - With two wins in four starts, Mountain General led the way through the marathon series of sprint stakes races here this winter, but the last leg is the most demanding.

When Bonapaw and Beau's Town entered Sunday's $150,000 Pelleteri Breeders' Cup Handicap, the race became deeper than the four stakes that preceded it.

"I'm just glad those two stayed away this long," said Steve Asmussen, Mountain General's trainer.

Actually, Bonapaw started against Mountain General here Jan. 12 in the Colonel Power Handicap, a six-furlong sprint, as is the Pelleteri, but the race was a wash. Bonapaw had been in training for less than two weeks after a winter break and wasn't fit, and after dueling on a fast pace for a half-mile, Bonapaw threw in the towel. Bonapaw, who won the Pelleteri two years ago, has raced twice since, both in routes at distances farther than his best. Sunday, Bonapaw returns to sprinting, his forte.

Bonapaw ran slow opening half-miles in his last two starts, but his natural speed probably hasn't been diminished, and without another true front-runner in the Pelleteri, Bonapaw could take the early lead.

Beau's Town won't be far behind, and his seasonal debut Feb. 1 at Oaklawn makes him the horse to beat Sunday. Racing for the first time in six months, Beau's Town won the King Cotton Handicap by more than four lengths, running six furlongs in 1:09.16.

At age 5 and with only 10 starts, Beau's Town might be ready for his best racing this year. Beau's Town won five races in a row starting late in 2001, but flopped late last summer in Saratoga's A.G. Vanderbilt Handicap, finishing a distant fifth. That race begs the question: Is Beau's Town a top regional sprinter, or something more?

"The goal is that he's going to be a horse to ship around for the bigger purses," trainer Cole Norman said. "We're going to feel a lot smarter about that come Sunday night."

Beau's Town ships here in peak form, according to Norman.

"He's doing everything perfect," Norman said. "His works are just like we want. He looks like a locomotive right now."

Mountain General set a track record for six furlongs winning the Thanksgiving Handicap but regressed when he returned three weeks later. Sunday, he returns on three weeks' rest after a strong win here in the Taylor's Special.

"He didn't run quite as hard, so the hope is he doesn't regress as much," Asmussen said. "His work last week was very sharp."

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