12/04/2001 12:00AM

Bunky's a man with a Louisiana Champions Day plan

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NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Corale "Bunky" Richards's big day at Louisiana Downs two months ago, when he won three of eight stakes races during a two-day festival of Louisiana-breds, remains fresh in his mind. Richards is in a position to do it again Saturday at Fair Grounds, with five horses to enter on Louisiana Champions Day.

The Champions Day card includes 10 Louisiana-bred races, seven for Thoroughbreds and three for Quarter Horses. All races offer a $100,000 purse except the Classic, which carries a $150,000 purse. Money aside, the Classic may not be the best race on Saturday's card, an honor that likely will go to the Sprint, which is apt to attract Hallowed Dreams and Kettle Man, two of the fastest horses in the region, Louisiana-bred or otherwise, as well as Champions Day Juvenile winner Bet Me Best.

Richards also has a horse for the Sprint, Don't Be Long Z, an upset winner of the Sprint two years ago, when beating favored Bet Me Best. He also plans to start his three Louisiana Downs stakes winners: Rapide, Louisiana-bred juvenile of the meet at Louisiana Downs, in the Juvenile; White Star, one of the horses to beat in the Classic; and Mrs. Mac in the Ladies. Pink Duck, a 3-year-old that ran a disappointing race at Louisiana Downs, will start either in the Classic or the Turf.

Pink Duck and White Star both are thriving now and put in strong recent works this week, while Mrs. Mac, a front-runner, prepped for the Ladies in an allowance sprint here last week. Rapide, Richards said, came down with a cough last week but is coming back around.

Norman duo arrive, work out

Kettle Man and Wild Squaw, trainer Cole Norman's two horses for Champions Day, arrived here early this week, and both worked an easy three furlongs Monday morning. Wild Squaw is bound for the Champions Day Ladies, while Kettle Man will likely be second choice in the Sprint, provided Hallowed Dreams wheels back a week after winning the Leggio Handicap here.

Kettle Man ran in the Sprint last year, finishing a badly beaten 10th and going to the sidelines after that start until July 29. He has been a different horse since his return, winning all four of his starts, the last two by a combined 16 lengths, including a six-length score in the Oct. 27 Island Whirl Handicap that was good for a 114 Beyer Speed Figure.

"The time off did him a world of good," Norman said. "We did a lot of gate work with this horse, and it took us a race or two to figure him out."

Norman, the runaway leading trainer at Louisiana Downs this year, said he gave most of his horses a short break during November, and will head to his winter quarters at Oaklawn Park on Dec. 30 with 40 horses.

Valhol to New Orleans Handicap

Trainer Dallas Keen said Valhol appeared to have exited his win Sunday in the Tenacious Handicap in good order, but Keen said Valhol was likely to skip the next handicap race here, the Louisiana Handicap, and point for the Jan. 20 Diplomat Way. Valhol's major goal this spring is the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap, in which he finished third last season.

Valhol injured a splint bone shortly after last season's New Orleans Handicap and later in the year suffered a serious bout of pneumonia. It was the latter condition that most concerned Keen, since pneumonia can leave scarring on a horse's lungs, damage that can permanently affect a racing career.

"I knew we could get him fit since he's run well off a layoff before," said Keen. "He seemed to come back excellent. He looked like a horse that knew he'd won."

Peitz has hot hand

Trainer Danny Peitz is at it again. A year after a hot Fair Grounds meet that included a win by Real Cozzy in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Peitz has started hot again. From six starters, he has a 3-2-1 record, a mark enhanced by Khatef's win here on Sunday in a first-level turf allowance. It was Khatef's first win since the last Fair Grounds meet, and was typical of the way things have been going for Peitz - luckily.

Khatef, like Peitz's opening-day turf winner Al Ghazi, got a perfect trip, rallying along the rail. Peitz can only laugh and shake his head at the string of good fortune. "It's just happened," he said. "Al Ghazi hadn't won in a year, and there was Khatef, and Rapacious hadn't won in almost two years."

Bettors be warned: Peitz has an entrant in Thursday's eighth race, Abuzaid, who faces a full field of turf allowance horses from a tough outside post.