02/22/2002 1:00AM

Bonapaw in the here and now

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NEW ORLEANS - Bonapaw may run for international glory a month from now in Dubai, but Sunday he runs to maintain his crown as king of the Fair Grounds sprinters. Bonapaw was one of six horses entered in the Taylor's Special, a six-furlong handicap with a $100,000 purse.

Bonapaw seems likely to race for a $2 million purse March 23 in the Dubai Golden Shaheen, but don't expect his connections to pull any punches in the Taylor's Special.

"Believe me, we're not running for second," said trainer Tucker Alonzo.

But the others might be. Bonapaw, owned by twin brothers Jim and Dennis Richard, has won two of the three sprint stakes at this meet, by a combined 9 1/2 lengths. When he lost the Gaudin Memorial Handicap on Dec. 16, Bonapaw was compromised by a poor start and having contested a heated early pace.

In the six weeks since his 5 1/4-length win in the Colonel Power Handicap, Bonapaw has worked three times, all bullets, including five furlongs in 58.20 seconds on Feb. 14.

The more he asserts his dominance in the division, the more weight is piled on Bonapaw. Sunday he carries 125 pounds, including his regular rider Gerard Melancon, spotting his rivals 10-to-12 pounds. Alonzo is disgruntled with the weight Bonapaw has to carry, though he remains confident Bonapaw can do it successfully.

"He can carry the weight," Alonzo said.

But Alonzo wonders how high Bonapaw's weight assignment will go should he score yet another solid win.

Bonapaw is giving 10 pounds to Abajo, who won the Taylor's Special last year when Bonapaw was a dull fourth. Abajo took the summer off after finishing seventh last April in the Grade 3 Count Fleet at Oaklawn Park. He was fourth in the Gaudin, his first start back, then improved and finished a clear second in the Colonel Power, but was no match for Bonapaw.

Abajo is the likely pacesetter in the Taylor's Special, which could have a field of only four or five, because both Boots on Sunday and Two Punch Sonny were cross-entered at Sam Houston on Saturday night.

Boots on Sunday, a winner of 11 of his 27 career starts, comes off a second-place finish in the King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn and has never raced at Fair Grounds. Two Punch Sonny won an allowance race by a neck here two weeks ago and is unproven at this class level.

Prospector's Gift was seventh in that same allowance race and is an outsider in the field, leaving the venerable Crucible as a likely candidate to fill out the show spot on Sunday.

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