11/05/2002 1:00AM

Dr. Lewis and Co. have the stuff

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Dr. Lewis will give up conditioning to all of his rivals in the $40,000 Racino Inaugural at Delta Downs on Thursday night, but he has the right connections to win the five-furlong race, which is the opener of the 80-night night meet in Vinton, La.

Doris Hebert, who trains Dr. Lewis, won the training title last meet, and Steve Bourque, who rides the horse, won the jockey title. Dr. Lewis also had a productive season last meet, winning a five-furlong allowance in a then-track record 57.80 seconds Jan. 18.

Hebert has not started Dr. Lewis since February. The horse was sidelined with a bone chip in his knee that has since been removed. For his comeback, Dr. Lewis has worked well, drilling four furlongs in 48.20 seconds Oct. 23. "He's training super," said Hebert.

A former claimer, Dr. Lewis won the $100,000 Crescent Stakes last May at Lone Star Park for Hebert. Overall, the horse, who races for D R D Stable and Randall Schmidt, has won 8 of 26 starts and $212,329.

Gracie's Dancer, who was third in a tough optional claimer in his last start, is one of the chief threats to Dr. Lewis. Another is Two Punch Sonny, who returns to the region after finishing an uncharacteristic ninth in the Maryland Million Sprint. Kerwin Clark rides Two Punch Sonny, while Guy Smith will be aboard Gracie's Dancer.

Big bucks for statebreds

Purses for Louisiana-bred races will be outstanding this meet, with the statebred program getting more than half of the purse commissions derived from slot machines at Delta Downs. With Delta the first track to get slots in Louisiana, how those funds should be divided has been the source of an ongoing debate among horsemen since the summer Quarter Horse meet at Delta.

"The formula that the racing commission has come up with as a guideline for us for the slot purse funds for Thoroughbred horses, at least initially, will move about 51 percent of the money to the Louisiana-bred horses," said Jack Bernsmeier, a vice president with Boyd Gaming, parent company for Delta.

This meet maiden 2-year-old races restricted to Louisiana-breds are worth $28,000, and the same races for open company are worth $13,000.

Hebert loaded for Delta

Hebert will be stabled at Delta for the first time in a long time. Last year, he shipped to the track from his Evangeline Downs base, but this season will keep 40 head on the grounds. Another trainer based at Evangeline who plans to have horses at Delta for the first time is Keith Bourgeois.

"This is the first year I'll leave horses stabled there," said Bourgeois. "I've got a lot of Louisiana-breds."

So does Hebert, who trains the well-regarded statebred stakes winners Bet Me Best and Hail to Bag.

"They have some nice Louisiana-bred races this meet, and I have a bunch of Louisiana-bred horses that will fit good," said Hebert.

New trainers to Delta include Clay Hurt, Bubba Cascio, Jerry Dobbs, and Paul Duhon. Among those returning for the meet is Bret Thomas, who won a high percentage of his races last meet.

Bourque will defend his title against a jockey colony that includes newcomers Ricky Faul and Clark. Also set to ride at the meet is Evangeline Downs riding champ C.J. Woodley, as well as Mario Reyes, Sylvester Carmouche, and Jerri Nichols.

* As of Tuesday morning, a horsemen's contract had not been signed by Delta and the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.