08/13/2001 11:00PM

Business booms for Bourgeois

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Trainers Steve Asmussen and Cole Norman are not the only nationally ranked horsemen racing at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La. Keith Bourgeois, who starts Miss Nitap in the featured eighth race Thursday, is the nation's ninth leading trainer by wins, with 117.

Asmussen ranks second in the country with 186, while Norman is fourth with 149.

Bourgeois, 39, has been quietly building his stable at his home base of Evangeline Downs in Lafayette, La. He has 65 horses in training there, and is on pace to set a record for wins in a season.

Bourgeois has won 77 races in the first 69 days of the 82-day Evangeline meet, which closes Sept. 3. Dale Angelle ranks second in the standings with 42 wins through Tuesday. For Bourgeois, the Evangeline title will be his second career training championship. He won this spring at Delta Downs in Vinton, La. For the past six years, Bourgeios has ranked among the top 10 trainers at both of those tracks, as well as at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Bourgeois's operation is made up mostly of claiming horses, but he has sent out a handful of stakes winners since he started training in 1983. His most talked about stakes score came a year ago this week when he sent out Sparkles of Luck to upset Hallowed Dreams in the $35,000 Millennium at Evangeline Downs.

Hallowed Dreams was going for her 17th consecutive win in that race, a feat that would have surpassed the mark of 16 she shares with Citation, Cigar, and Mister Frisky. Hallowed Dreams has not lost a race since the Millennium, winning seven more races to improve her record to 23 for 24.

"It felt good to win, and in another way it felt bad, keeping Hallowed Dreams from breaking the record," Bourgeois said of the Millennium. "We got lucky. Sparkles of Luck ran the race of her life and Hallowed Dreams just didn't fire that night. It's just one of those things that happens in racing."

A recent successful claim by Bourgeois is Southern Boy, who goes for his fourth win in five starts for the trainer in a $15,000 claiming race Thursday night at Evangeline.

"I think he can win again," said Bourgeois. "If he runs back to the same race he's been running, he'll be right there. He was a good claim for $7,500.

Bourgeois said Miss Nitap, who in her last start was third in the $40,000 Fantasia Stakes at Louisiana Downs on July 1, is pointing for the $60,000-added Louisiana Breeders' Oaks at Louisiana Downs on Oct. 14. She stretches back out around two turns for the first time since February in an allowance race Thursday, preparing for the 1 1/16-mile Oaks. "I think going long is what she wants," said Bourgeois.

Rachel's Viva, ah

Rachel's Viva, who won 5 of 6 starts as a 2-year-old last year, including the Princess Futurity and Delta Miss Stakes at Louisiana Downs, makes her seasonal bow in the third race Thursday. The 5 1/2-furlong allowance for fillies and mares is worth $23,000 and has also drawn Miss Photogenic, winner of the Dixie Miss at Louisiana Downs on July 28.

Rachel's Viva will be a sentimental favorite Thursday because of the recent death of her co-owner and breeder Robert Norman. The filly, who has earned $200,160, faces a short, but deep field in the allowance race, including Miss Photogenic, who has won four of her last five races for trainer Brent Davidson; the Asmussen-trained stakes winning duo of Secret Spender and Unique Creek; and the honest Hatenot.