07/19/2002 11:00PM

Bonapaw takes Hanshin on cruise control

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Norman Miller eats, sleeps, and breathes Bonapaw. Saturday, just after Bonapaw won the Hanshin Cup, Miller had to give him a bath.

"I guess I can leave him in good hands now," said Miller, jogging back to the winner's circle after hosing down a sweaty Bonapaw in the tunnel beneath the Arlington stands.

In the winner's circle, Miller could relish what he said earlier in the week would be the "greatest moment in my life."

With him were owners Jim and Dennis Richard, identical twins from New Orleans who cut short Bonapaw's layoff following his trip to Dubai in March. It was a good move. Making his first start beyond a sprint distance in almost two years, Bonapaw got an easy lead Saturday and sprinted away from his challengers in the stretch, beating an excellent field by 2 1/4 lengths in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin.

Bonapaw is the only horse Miller trains. He drove him from Folsom, La., to Des Moines for his first start since the March 23 Golden Shaheen, then drove him from Des Moines to Chicago. When he got here, Miller had to teach Bonapaw to rate.

Bonapaw is a crack sprinter who had run a half-mile in 44.40 seconds just two weeks ago, but after arriving to Arlington, Miller put him through a series of long, slow gallops. The first morning, Bonapaw labored, but day by day he got a little stronger.

"It worked," Miller said. "I worried if we had enough in him."

Gerard Melancon, Bonapaw's regular jockey, rode a masterful race. Melancon broke him smoothly and Bonapaw relaxed in the bridle. Nobody went with him, and after a quarter-mile in a tepid 23.03 seconds, Bonapaw raced alone on the lead.

"I knew on the backside he'd be tough to beat," Melancon said.

Coming off the turn, Hero's Tribute attacked Bonapaw from the outside, Slider from the inside, but Melancon had waited and waited to turn Bonapaw loose. When he did Bonapaw ran quickly away from his pursuers and never was seriously threatened.

Slider finished second, a length ahead of Discreet Hero, who edged Hero's Tribute for third. After racing seven furlongs in a sizzling 1:21.17, Bonapaw was timed in 1:34 for a mile. He paid $12.60 to win.

The Richard twins said Bonapaw is staying at Arlington to run either in the Arlington Sprint or the Sea O'Erin, a one-mile grass race.

* For Rubies gave owner Choctaw Racing Stable, trainer Lynn Whiting, and jockey Craig Perret a win earlier on the card in the $60,000 Real Delight Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. For Rubies easily beat Smoke Chaser, with favored Cordoba third.

* Jockey Rene Douglas swept the first five races Saturday.