Updated on 09/16/2011 7:38AM

Crucible: Nasty as he wants to be

Email

NEW ORLEANS - Crucible is still crazy after all these years. And at age 7, he's still a capable stakes horse, too.

Rejuvenated with a fast-closing second-place finish three weeks ago at Fair Grounds in the F.W. Gaudin Handicap, his best race in a couple of seasons, Crucible starts again Saturday in another older-horse sprint stakes here, the Colonel Power. Ignored at odds of 13-1 in the Gaudin, he'll be taken more seriously this time after missing by a nose last time despite a troubled stretch run.

*, a gelding owned by Sam-Son Farm, has been giving trainer Mark Frostad's barn nightmares for years. There's no end to Crucible's antics while he trains, and the gelding has a little mean streak, too. A few years ago, he savaged a groom's face, and assistant trainer Hugh Chatman has shunned Crucible's stall since the horse pinned him against a wall while being saddled.

The 41-year-old Chatman has been riding Crucible in the morning since he first came to Fair Grounds as an unraced 3-year-old maiden four seasons ago. "I feel like I've been getting on him forever," Chatman said. "I told Mark [Frostad], we're going to retire at the same time."

When he first came to the racetrack, Crucible trained like any other horse, but as time went by some wires got crossed. Crucible wanted to throw his head and to run off with his rider every time he trained, even during the most moderate jogs. In desperation, Frostad and Chatman started jogging and galloping Crucible the "wrong way" - clockwise, on the outer part of the track - and the horse calmed down enough to exercise. That practice ended two seasons ago when Crucible unwound enough to train in the right direction.

"He'll stand there on the track with a lot of class, but as soon as you get him moving, watch out," Chatman said, holding the spot on his lower back Crucible has aggravated over the years. Crucible has driven Chatman mad at times, but Chatman has never taken out his anger on the horse.

"He's just taken a lot of patience," Chatman said. "He's a big horse, but you could never get physical with him. It would fry his mind."

Since Crucible has won two stakes and is closing in on $600,000 in earnings, the work's been worth the reward. "When he runs, he gives 150 percent every time out," Chatman said.

Even now, the Frostad barn is unlocking Crucible's secrets. The day before the Gaudin, Frostad left Crucible in the barn and didn't take him to the track, something he had never done before. "He stresses himself out so much mentally when he goes to the racetrack," Chatman said. "We just walked him the day before."

They will walk him again Friday, lead him over to the races Saturday, and Crucible will try for his first stakes win in almost three years. That would be crazy.

Bonapaw to run, 'Robin' to rest

Crucible won't face the winner of the Gaudin, Robin De Nest, but will run against the Gaudin third-place finisher, Bonapaw.

Robin De Nest is due back in trainer Tom Amoss's barn this weekend after being turned out on a farm following the Gaudin. Amoss said nothing in particular was wrong with Robin De Nest, but that the horse, a reformed claimer, had earned a rest after a long campaign.

Trainer Tucker Alonzo said Bonapaw would accept his assignment as 122-pound highweight in the Colonel Power, a race in which he finished second last year. The horse that beat him, District, also is under consideration for Saturday's race, as is Abajo, a top sprinter here for the last two years.

Bonapaw easily won the Thanksgiving Day Handicap opening day but was compromised by a difficult trip in the Gaudin. Alonzo said he's pleased with the way Bonapaw has been training, and Bonapaw, a good work horse, has logged two outstanding breezes since his last start.

Fifty Stars progressing

Last year's Louisiana Derby winner * turned in the most significant work of his comeback when he worked five furlongs in company here Tuesday morning. Working with Wadsworth and Mr. Campbell Sir, Fifty Stars breezed on the outside of one of his workmates and in front of another, going an even five furlongs in 1:01.40. The move was faster than Fifty Stars's typical work here last season, and along with his workmates' the fastest work at the distance Tuesday morning.

It was Fifty Stars's second work since he shipped into Fair Grounds from El Primero Training Center in Laredo, Tex., where he had posted three published breezes.

"I was very pleased with the tempo of the work," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "He came back blowing a little bit, but he was great today [Wednesday]."

Fifty Stars has not raced since finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby, in which he suffered a leg injury. Asmussen and owners Jim Cassels and Bob Zollars have not yet picked out a race for Fifty Stars's comeback. Asmussen mentioned the March 3 New Orleans Handicap as a possibility, but said he will not push Fifty Stars to make that race.

Knot Knot can can

As has been the case throughout this meet, the racetrack was slow during Fair Grounds training races on Wednesday, and the fastest of four five-furlong races went in 1:02.20.

There were no standout performances, and one horse to watch, Knot Knot, did not even win his heat. But Knot Knot, a son of Twining and a brother to Fair Grounds stakes winner Sutter Sutter, showed good speed, and battled back gamely after being headed by the Al Stall-trained Cowboy Cat. Neither horse was asked for his best during the stretch run and both could be a factor at first asking. Knot Knot is trained by Mike Doyle.

*

*

* Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.