03/26/2004 1:00AM

Bold Merit has big shot at five in row

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Bold Merit is going for his fifth straight win Sunday in the $50,000 Rainbow Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and he looks imposing both on paper and in the flesh. The six-furlong race for 3-year-old Arkansas-breds is one of two restricted stakes on the card. The $50,000 Rainbow Miss is for 3-year-old fillies bred in Arkansas.

The Rainbow has been the target race for Bold Merit since last summer, and he has been training at Oaklawn for the past three weeks. He has won 4 of 5 career starts, and if it weren't for a slow break in his debut, he might be undefeated. Bold Merit was shuffled back at the start in that race, hit traffic while closing, and finished third, beaten a length in a maiden special weight at Turf Paradise on Oct. 27.

One race later, Bold Merit won his maiden, then reeled off three straight stakes wins against open company. His latest came in the $40,000 Palo Verde at Turf Paradise on Feb. 28, and he earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure.

"He's a real mature colt for his age," said Bryan Porter, who co-owns and trains Bold Merit, an April foal by Bold Anthony. "He's a stout, large horse, and real mature mentally. He's got the whole package."

Bold Merit also has a versatile running style.

"He's got handy speed when you need it," said Porter. "You can place him where you need to. He's just been a real professional about everything, from traffic to handling the mud well."

Esteban Gomez, who has ridden Bold Merit in each of his starts, has the mount Sunday.

Chene Rouge, who was a dominating winner of the prep for the Rainbow Miss, will try to remain undefeated in statebred company. Last year, she won the $35,000 Lady Razorback Futurity for Arkansas-breds at Louisiana Downs. Her other statebred win came in the prep, on March 10, when she won by six lengths and earned an 81 Beyer Speed Figure.

"We just hope we can run the same race we ran the other day, and we ought to be in pretty good shape," said Larry Robideaux Jr., who trains Chene Rouge for William Ward.

Robideaux recently brought five horses to Oaklawn to race over the closing weeks, and from five starters he has won three races. Chene Rouge was one of the main reasons he shipped in horses from Fair Grounds.

"She has a race over the track," said Robideaux, who has given the mount to Tim Doocy.