04/06/2005 11:00PM

Fonner Park: Three-way showdown


Tonight Rainbow, Lukfata Louis, and Thundering Verzy, the top contenders for sprinter of the meet honors at Fonner Park, face off in Saturday's $25,000 Budweiser-Tondi Handicap at six furlongs.

Tonight Rainbow won this race in 2003 and was third in last year's edition. He opened this year's campaign with a dull sixth-place finish in the half-mile Grasmick Handicap and has not been out since. Trainer Boyd Caster has brought Tonight Rainbow up to this race with a series of sharp five-furlong drills, capped off with a 1:00.20 move immediately following the races on March 26. Curtis Kimes has the mount on Tonight Rainbow, who carries 119 pounds and breaks from post 5.

Lukfata Louis won the Grasmick Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths and returned with a seven-length win over allowance foes on March 12, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 94 under a hand ride. He has been assigned top weight of 121 pounds, and trainer Temple Rushton engages the riding services of Don Frazier from post 7.

Thundering Verzy, the 3-year-old Nebraska-bred of the year last year, was a convincing winner of the Ogataul Handicap here on March 12 in his 2005 bow and will receive his stiffest class test to date in this spot. A winner of 8 of his 19 starts, Thundering Verzy was claimed by owner Craig Wulf for $20,000 at Turf Paradise over the winter. Trainer Dan Coughlin has named Kelly Murray to ride from post 1 under 116 pounds.

Although Tonight Rainbow and Lukfata Louis appear the likely favorites in the field of eight, Thundering Verzy rates a solid chance of pulling off the mild upset should he be able to rate just off the early pace.

Also returning to action in the Budweiser-Tondi is the 10-year-old High Dice, who did not race last year. Trained by Herb Riecken, High Dice has a career mark of 18-14-11 from 63 starts and earnings of $287,515. Although six furlongs has never been his strongest distance, High Dice is sure to make his usual run from off the pace.