12/10/2003 12:00AM

Bonapaw meets Cashel Castle


NEW ORLEANS - Two former stakes horses have come out for Friday's featured seventh race at Fair Grounds, but for now, the emphasis is on former.

Bonapaw and Cashel Castle have gone through troubled seasons and may never get back to the lofty positions they once occupied. Bonapaw once ruled the Fair Grounds sprint colony, and in 2002 he won the Grade 1 Vosburgh in New York. But after winning five starts and $463,000 last year, Bonapaw has gone 1 for 9 in 2003, and he was beaten 16 lengths here opening day in the Thanksgiving Handicap. A repeat of that effort may prompt owner Dennis Richard to send Bonapaw into retirement.

Cashel Castle, who has been transferred from Chris Block's barn to Richie Scherer's for the winter, hasn't run badly this year, with a second, a third, and a fourth from three starts. But he has been nothing like the horse who won his first five races, starting in the fall of 2001, without anyone coming close to him. Cashel Castle hurt himself in the spring of 2002, and for the rest of the year trainer Chris Block wondered if Cashel Castle would ever race again. He did, coming back in August, but Cashel Castle has not been the same.

Bonapaw has raced twice on turf, winning over this course several seasons ago, but Cashel Castle has never tried grass. Both raise more questions than answers in Friday's feature, a "money" allowance at about 5 1/2 furlongs on grass.

From post 1, Bonapaw should be on or just off the early pace, with Tricky Storm certain to make a try for the lead from post 6. Tricky Storm, a turf-sprint specialist, comes off an upper-level claiming win at Churchill Downs, but he beat a modest field in that start and had lost two in a row against stakes horses before it.

Also entered was Rahy's Secret, who made a brief splash three seasons ago at Fair Grounds but never lived up to his early promise. He hasn't been out since July, but makes his first start for trainer Eddie Johnston, who has strong Fair Grounds meets.

Two Punch Sonny seems like a better horse on dirt, but Red Lightning, who has been keeping good company in turf sprints all year, has a late-running style suited to this course's general profile. He was never a Bonapaw or a Cashel Castle, but Red Lightning may be the horse for this moment.