Updated on 09/15/2011 1:37PM

Familiar foes face off in Gaudin

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NEW ORLEANS - The second of five older-horse sprints stakes at the Fair Grounds 4 1/2-month meet, the $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Handicap, is on tap here Sunday. You know the players. Bonapaw, Abajo, Crucible - they've been running here for years, taking advantage of the stakes-rich schedule.

Bonapaw and Abajo waged memorable battles here last year, each winning two of the Fair Grounds sprint stakes. In Abajo's absence, Bonapaw was an easy winner of the Thanksgiving Handicap here on opening day. This time, *, last year's Gaudin winner, is back, and Bonapaw, coming off a nasty fall last week, may have to work harder.

The others in the race, primarily Thanksgiving Handicap place horse Robin de Nest and Smolderin Heart, are hoping a speed duel between the two best horses cooks both of them. It has happened before. In last season's Colonel Power Handicap, Abajo and Bonapaw hooked up through a 44.20-second half-mile and suffered the consequences.

This time around, Bonapaw took the worst of the draw. Under Gerard Melancon, he will break from post 2, well inside Abajo, whose rider, Donnie Meche, can break and evaluate Bonapaw's position.

Abajo has not raced since April 12, when he was badly beaten in the Count Fleet at Oaklawn, which Bonapaw won easily. Steve Asmussen, who trains the horse for the Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, gave Abajo the summer off and brought him into Fair Grounds on Nov. 1, where he has been training steadily. Abajo thrives on the Fair Grounds surface and Asmussen can have a horse ready off works, but the trainer cautions that Abajo is a heavy horse who has run hard throughout his career.

"He has a lot of miles on him," Asmussen said.

As for Bonapaw, he had just completed a blazing five-furlong work here on Dec. 6 and was having his feet hosed off outside trainer Tucker Alonzo's barn, when a horse nearby him spooked, startling Bonapaw and causing him to slip and fall. The horse suffered cuts and bruises and did not return to the track to train for a few days, but Alonzo gives assurances that Bonapaw would not contest the Gaudin were he not doing well, and indeed, Bonapaw appeared the picture of health when seen in his stall late this week.

Robin de Nest, Smolderin Heart, and Crucible are a notch below the top two, but that trio could fall into a good trip behind a pace war.

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