03/05/2002 1:00AM

Bodyguard back in the swing


NEW ORLEANS - The 7-year-old Bodyguard once ran with the stars. Two springs ago, Bodyguard spent his mornings keeping a gifted 3-year-old colt named Fusaichi Pegasus company during his morning exercise. The horses would work together, and Fusaichi Pegasus got enough out of the experience that he won the 2000 Kentucky Derby.

Fine for him, but where's the love for Bodyguard? Fusaichi Pegasus has long since gone off to a life as a commercial stallion. Bodyguard heads the featured race Thursday at Fair Grounds. He will face seven rivals - with two on the also-eligible list - in a one-mile turf race for $75,000 claimers or third-level allowance horses.

Richard Dutrow Jr. trained a Southern California string last winter and spring, and when he went back to New York it was with Bodyguard in tow.

Dutrow had helped purchase Bodyguard and another horse from trainer Neil Drysdale and took them home for a claiming career. Bodyguard has panned out for Dutrow and owner Sanford Goldfarb.

After losing a pair of turf claimers in New York, Bodyguard came to New Orleans this winter and found his best stride. He won easily in $40,000 and $50,000 claiming races, and moved up to the $75,000 claiming level and won again Feb. 3, this time by a half-length.

"We're very happy with him," said Dutrow, who has about 13 horses in training at Fair Grounds. "In New York, he wasn't going the way we thought he should, so we gave him some time off. I can't really explain it, but he's done very well."

Bodyguard's rivals include the horse he outfinished for the win in his last start, Holy Conflict, who bounced back from two subpar races to run well. Holy Conflict, who does not run for a claiming tag, has suffered several near misses at the third allowance level on turf.

If rain forces a move to dirt, G.W.'s Deputy, a sprinter by trade, may carry his speed a mile if he makes a clear early lead.

* The eighth race is a good first-level sprint allowance for 3-year-old fillies headed by Miss N Texas and recent debut winner Bien Sur. Miss N Texas took a tough beat in her career debut, when she rallied too late to win and finished second, then she won easily in her second start. Trainer Mike Stidham stretched her out to two turns on Feb. 7, but the filly's pedigree may have gotten in the way, and she had no response in the stretch run.

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