01/12/2002 12:00AM

Bonapaw sprints to top

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NEW ORLEANS - He's back. Three weeks after a surprising, tough-luck loss in the F.W. Gaudin Handicap, Bonapaw asserted his supremacy among local sprinters with a powerful win in the $75,000 Colonel Power Handicap.

Bonapaw ($5) pressed the early pace of Abajo, moved to the lead turning for home, and never looked back, steadily drawing away from his six opponents to win by 5 1/4 lengths. His time of 1:09.35 for six furlongs on a sloppy track set a stakes record.

The result avenged Bonapaw's loss as a heavy favorite in the Gaudin, when he broke slowly, rushed up on the inside to dispute a fast pace, and tired in the final half-furlong. Though his connections - owners Jim and Dennis Richards and trainer Tucker Alonzo - did not use it as an excuse, Bonapaw had fallen outside Alonzo's barn and suffered cuts and bruises less than two weeks before the Gaudin.

As bad as Bonapaw's trip was last time, Saturday's was equally good. Breaking alertly under his regular rider, Gerard Melancon, Bonapaw raced just behind Abajo through a quarter mile in a moderate 22.46 seconds. Bonapaw and Melancon moved abreast of Abajo on the turn, and went past with Abajo offering only slight resistance.

Abajo still managed to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths in front of Crucible, who had lost by a nose in the Gaudin, to Robin De Nast, who didn't enter the Colonel Power.