09/17/2003 11:00PM

Bonapaw seeks turnaround on turf

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It was a year ago this weekend that Dennis Richard and Norman Miller III reached racing utopia. Bonapaw, the speedy gelding that Richard owns and Miller trains, thoroughly dominated one of the most prestigious sprints in racing, the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont, providing the men with a thrill beyond description.

Unfortunately, the year that has passed has not been particularly kind to the horse or the men. Bonapaw has been a shell of his former self in losing eight straight races. Richard lost his twin brother, Jimmy, to cancer in March. And Miller has tried to maintain his remarkably upbeat attitude despite the continual frustrations of losing.

"Yeah, we're disappointed by what's been going on," Miller said earlier this week from his base at the Folsom, La., training center, located some 50 miles north of New Orleans. "But we're also optimistic, because this horse is doing good again."

Bonapaw, a 7-year-old gelding, will have ample opportunity to show just how good when he goes off as one of the favorites Saturday in the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky. The six-furlong Turf Dash will be the first race for Bonapaw since he ran fourth in the Evangeline Mile five weeks ago, and just his second race since the Texas Mile in late April.

"Has the horse lost a step or two? I'm not sure," said Miller, 48. "All I know is he's the same big, long-striding horse I've always known him to be. Maybe we just haven't had him in the right spots during the last year, I don't know. Dennis and I, we're dreamers, and we've tried some awfully tough company. We're hoping that getting him back into sprints is what will turn him back around."

Bonapaw has raced only once on grass, winning an allowance race during his 3-year-old season. He is bred for turf, being by Sabona out of a Nijinsky II mare, so Miller is confident the change in surface will not be a problem.

Also entered in the field of eight are such stakes-winning turf sprinters as Abderian, Testify, No Jacket Required, and the defending champion, Red Lightning.

Watch Walden with Voodoo Lady and Peacefally

Until last year, the $100,000 Kentucky Cup Ladies Turf seemed a virtual birthright for trainer Elliott Walden. The first four runnings of the Ladies were won by fillies or mares trained by Walden: Pleasant Temper (1998-99), Gino's Spirits (2000), and Silken (2001).

Walden did not start a horse in the Ladies last year, when San Dare won for trainer Rick Hiles, but Walden will be back Saturday with major contenders in Voodoo Lady and Peacefally, two of 12 entered in the one-mile race.

Voodoo Lady, said Walden, "is as honest as they come."

Peacefally, an Irish-bred who began her career in France, is from the same mold as two of his Ladies winners. "Gino's Spirits and Silken both started their career overseas, which I think is a big advantage when you take them to Kentucky Downs," Walden said.

There are similarities between the undulating style of Kentucky Downs and typical European layouts. "Whenever we get a horse from abroad, we tend to think about the big races there," Walden said.

Both Walden horses appear capable in what should prove the deepest of the Turf Festival races. Other contenders in the Ladies include Apasionata Sonata, Dancing, and Flager.

Wiggins on fortuitous turf

Surely, Hal Wiggins thinks only good thoughts about Kentucky Downs. He scored one of his greatest victories there two years ago when Chorwon won the Kentucky Cup Turf. Wiggins had another nice payday there last year when Jake the Flake won the KC Mile.

Wiggins is returning to Franklin this time with Red Mountain, one of nine older horses in the $100,000 Mile. Red Mountain has a dangerous late run that could make him the one to beat.

Hard Buck, a recent winner of his U.S. debut at Ellis Park, and Mystery Giver rank among the other viable win candidates for the Mile.