01/09/2003 12:00AM

At feather-light 123, it's a go for Bonapaw

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NEW ORLEANS - Not only will Bonapaw's connections accept their horse's 123-pound weight assignment for Sunday's Colonel Power Handicap at Fair Grounds, they will accept it with glee.

Bonapaw's co-owner, Dennis Richard, confirmed Thursday that Bonapaw will start Sunday in the six-furlong Colonel Power, his first race since he finished fifth Nov. 30 in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile. Bonapaw will make this start less than two weeks after returning to his regular training regimen following a 30-day rest period.

Bonapaw was a last-minute nomination to the Colonel Power, but by early this week his connections had decided to run, pending Bonapaw's weight assignment. Richard said he would withhold Bonapaw from the race if he was asked to carry 130 pounds or more, but Bonapaw's was assigned only 123 pounds.

"I love it. I can't figure it out, but I love it," Richard said Thursday. "I'm accepting it with a smile on my face."

Bonapaw carried 124 pounds in his last sprint handicap start, an easy win in the Arlington Sprint last August. The last time he raced at Fair Grounds - in the Feb. 24 Taylor's Special - Bonapaw carried 125 pounds to an easy win. Bonapaw was fifth and 10th in his last two starts of 2002, but because he had easily won the Grade 1 Vosburgh last September, Richard feared Fair Grounds racing officials would pile on the weight.

"I just put down what I thought was a fair weight for him and for the other horses," said Mervin Muniz, the director of racing.

But will Bonapaw scare anyone out of the Colonel Power? During his time off in December, Bonapaw didn't train at all, and he will come into the race off a series of two-mile gallops with no timed workouts. Moreover, Bonapaw is being pointed to a two-turn experiment Feb. 9 in the Grade 3 Whirlaway Handicap.

"He's usually really rank after a layoff, and I'm really hoping he can rate," Richard said. "He's starting to gallop out real nice, and he's not being as much of an idiot as he was a few days ago."

As of Thursday, six other horses were probable for the Colonel Power. Mountain General set a track record winning the Thanksgiving Day Handicap but was fourth Dec. 22 in the Gaudin. Kazoo beat Cojet and Gracie's Dancer in the Gaudin, and all three of those horses could return Sunday, along with Talknow and Early Flyer.

Barnett ponders options for Learned

Learned has gotten over the upper respiratory infection that kept him out of the Jan. 2 Louisiana Handicap and worked a solid half-mile Wednesday in 49.80 seconds. Trainer Bobby Barnett said Learned will work once more before a decision is made about where he will start next. The options include the Diplomat Way on Jan. 19 or one of two high-end turf allowance races later this month.

Learned has never started in a stakes race, but the talent he displayed the last two seasons shows him to be stakes caliber. Learned won his first three starts in 2001 but suffered a serious leg injury last winter that forced him to miss much of 2002. Back to the races in September, Learned took a couple starts to get untracked, but ran strongly to win a Churchill allowance race in November. Barnett had pointed Learned to the Louisiana, but Learned started coughing shortly before his intended start, causing the change in plans.

The Feb. 9 Whirlaway on dirt remains Learned's short-term goal, Barnett said, even if the gelding does wind up in a grass race.

Meanwhile, Barnett was very pleased with Meteor Impact's five-furlong work here Jan. 4, which was timed in 1:02.40. An impressive winner of the Louisiana Champions Day Juvenile in his last race, Meteor Impact is on target for the Crescent City Derby on Jan. 18. The Crescent City is for statebreds at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

Rebridled Dreams will await Silverbulletday

Rebridled Dreams won a 3-year-old filly route allowance race by five lengths here last week and seems ready to jump into stakes company, but trainer Bret Calhoun said it's more likely Rebridled Dreams will run Feb. 15 in the Grade 3 Silverbulletday than Jan. 26 in the Tiffany Lass, Fair Grounds's first route stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Rebridled Dreams won her maiden in a sprint early in the meet, and stretching out for the first time she contested a fast pace but still had plenty left to beat the Churchill maiden winner Throne by five lengths.

"I thought if she was going to be a good filly it was going to be at two turns," Calhoun said.