11/27/2003 1:00AM

Fair Grounds: Posse splashes home


NEW ORLEANS - The 3-year-old sprinter Posse showed long ago he likes racing on wet tracks. Thursday, before a crowd of 5,188 on opening day at Fair Grounds, he proved himself a horse for deluges, too.

Running through a monsoon, and under premature darkness at 4:20 p.m., Posse charged from last to first and won the Thanksgiving Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Aloha Bold.

"I was hoping it would be wet, but I wasn't asking for this," said trainer Steve Asmussen, drenched from going out to meet Posse as he returned from his victory. Asmussen won his second straight Thanksgiving Handicap and third race on Thursday's card. "He's just a fast horse. This is what he is."

Posse was ridden by Corey Lanerie for the jockey's fourth straight win on the card. Lanerie won five on last year's opening day. His fear in the Thanksgiving was letting Posse uncork his tremendous kick too soon.

"He accelerates so fast," Lanerie said. "When you let him go, he goes. I wish his move lasted a little longer."

Lanerie sat chilly as first Gracie's Dancer then Bonapaw set the early pace, 22.17 seconds for a quarter-mile, 45.47 for a half. Price of Honour took over from the fading speed coming off the turn, but there was Posse, blazing through on the inside. At the eighth pole the race was down to him and Aloha Bold, who ran on gamely to the outside, but Posse had too much and drew away in the final yards. The heavy favorite, Posse paid $2.80 to win, running six furlongs in 1:09.41. Price of Honour held third, followed by Gracie's Dancer, Bonapaw, and Electrode.

"He's just a wonderful horse," said Asmussen, who trains Posse for Bill Heiligbrodt and Vinery Stable. Posse will stand stud at Vinery after he runs in the Grade 1 Malibu next month.

Asmussen stewed last season as Posse, whom he considered a top class 2-year-old, failed to live up to his expectations.

"I don't think I've ever been more empty or shocked at the way a horse ran than after he ran so poorly in the Great State Challenge at Houston last year," Asmussen said. "But at no point did we lose faith in him."