07/02/2002 12:00AM

Bonapaw seeks repeat

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ALTOONA, Iowa - Defending champion Bonapaw will be the 123-pound highweight, conceding three to eight pounds to four rivals in the $150,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows on Thursday evening.

Bonapaw, a winner of 14 of 30 starts and $724,000, seemed on the verge of becoming one of the nation's leading sprinters after capturing three stakes races at Fair Grounds last winter.

Owners James and Dennis Richard then sent Bonapaw to the desert in search of riches in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Stakes at Nad Al Sheba Race Course in Dubai on the Dubai World Cup undercard. Bonapaw was never in contention that night and finished sixth, beaten 9 1/2 lengths, by Caller One in the six-furlong race run down a straightaway.

Although trained by Howard Alonzo, Bonapaw was accompanied to Dubai by trainer Norman Miller, for whom he will make his first official start Thursday.

Miller says the Dubai performance can be blamed on Bonapaw's lack of acclimation and his inability to get a hold of the racing surface.

"We only got invited to the race after another horse canceled out. We got there six days before the race and didn't get to work over the surface - and it was a lot different than what he was used to," said Miller.

Bonapaw's connections had planned on giving him four to five months of rest following the Dubai race, but after six weeks at the farm he was doing so well they decided to put him back in training for a defense of his Iowa Sprint title.

If Bonapaw's work here last Thursday is any indication they made the right decision. Bonapaw was timed going five furlongs in 56.64 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:09 and change without being asked by jockey Glenn Corbett, who substituted for regular rider Gerard Melancon. Melancon will ride Bonapaw in the Sprint.

The 9-year-old gelding Men's Exclusive may be Bonapaw's biggest danger. He also made the trip to Dubai in March and finished fourth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths, after having run second in the same race in 2000.

Unlike Bonapaw, Men's Exclusive made a quick return to the races, finishing second less than a month later in a California-bred stakes at Santa Anita.

Trainer Wesley Ward has given Men's Exclusive 2 1/2 months off since but has kept him on a steady work schedule at his Hollywood Park home base.

Men's Exclusive has won multiple graded stakes in his career while earning more than $1.3 million. Martin Pedroza will be in from California to ride Men's Exclusive, who will carry 120 pounds as he seeks his first win since the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Handicap at Hollywood last December.

Multiple Stakes winners Boots on Sunday, Medium Rare, and Sand Ridge, who finished second in the Iowa Sprint last year, add quality to a strong field.

- Blackjack Boy heads a field of nine 2-year-olds in Thursday's co-featured $60,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile at five furlongs. Jon Court has the call aboard Blackjack Boy for trainer Steve Morguelan.

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