02/20/2002 1:00AM

Dubai trip might be in Bonapaw's future after all


NEW ORLEANS - Though his connections thought they had been passed over, Bonapaw might be headed to Dubai after all. First, however, there's the matter of Sunday's Taylor's Special Handicap at Fair Grounds.

* will be a heavy favorite in Taylor's Special, the fourth of five sprint stakes for older horses at this meet. Bonapaw has won two of the three sprint stakes run so far and was third in the other after a tough trip. His 5 1/4-length win in the Colonel Power last month firmly planted him atop the local sprint colony, and Bonapaw has done nothing since to hint at decline. His three workouts since the race all have been bullets, including a five-furlong work Feb. 14 in 58.20 seconds.

Bonapaw's owners, Jim and Dennis Richards, have long entertained the idea of traveling to Dubai for the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen on the Dubai World Cup undercard. But until this week, the Richards brothers and trainer Tucker Alonzo thought Bonapaw hadn't been invited to the race.

Tuesday, Alonzo said, Kevin Greely, the racing secretary at Nad Al Sheba racecourse, host track of the Dubai World Cup card, called the Richardses and told them there was an 80 percent chance Bonapaw would be invited for the Golden Shaheen. Wednesday, Alonzo drew blood from Bonapaw to give to the shipping company that would handle Bonapaw's transport from New Orleans to Dubai.

Sunday, Bonapaw will tote 125 pounds in the Taylor's Special and spots his opponents significant weight. Robin De Nest, the second highweight and a possible starter, will carry 117 pounds if he runs, and Abajo, a probable starter, gets in with 115. Bonapaw, Abajo, and Crucible were the only three confirmed runners for the race as of Wednesday, and racing officials here were hoping for a field of five.

Chou Croute lacks a star

A larger field is expected for Saturday's $150,000 Chou Croute Handicap, a route race for older fillies and mares. The race was to have marked the seasonal debut of Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine, but her career-ending injury has left the field without a star. Far from it, in fact.

To illustrate the softness of this division, Maltese Superb, assigned top-weight of 117 pounds in the Chou Croute, has never won a stakes race in this country and has lost her last four starts. She's expected to run as are the two fillies weighted just below her, Instinct and Mimi's Tizzy. Also possible for the race are Gal on the Go, Scoop, Cello, Momentous, Descapate, Cat and the Hat, and Our Majestic Cat.

Protecting the turf

Fair Grounds will cut down the number of starters in turf races beginning Friday to preserve the inner portion of its grass course. Twelve horses had been allowed to run in day-to-day turf races, but beginning Friday that number drops to eight.

Fair Grounds typically positions the inner rail in two places for turf races, shifting the rail back and forth throughout the meet. After Thursday's races, the rail will be moved to a third position, out another 10 feet from its current position, which is 15 feet out from the inside of the course. The narrowed course necessitates the reduced number of starters.

The changes will be in effect until March 2, when the rail will be moved back in for the Bayou Breeders' Cup. Fair Grounds's major turf race of the season, the $700,000 Explosive Bid Handicap, is scheduled for March 24.

The turf course here has visibly worn down. Track president Bryan Krantz said a record number of turf races were run last season, and that this year's pace was slightly ahead of last year's in the last set of statistics he had seen. A spell of dry weather has limited the number of recent races moved from turf to dirt, and the course hasn't gotten the breathers it needs to recover from regular wear and tear, Krantz said.

Tricky Indy impresses

The Al Stall-trained 3-year-old filly Tricky Indy was a standout in Wednesday's training races, winning the first of two heats in a snappy 1:01.20. As well she should have been.

Owner B. Wayne Hughes paid $775,000 for Tricky Indy when she was a weanling. She's an A.P. Indy filly who's a half-sister to the good sprinter Confide.

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