11/23/2004 1:00AM

Gold Storm sitting one out

Gold Storm has traveled extensively this year, including a trip to the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

NEW ORLEANS - Gold Storm would have been one of the favorites in Thursday's Thanksgiving Handicap at Fair Grounds, but trainer Bubba Cascio made a last-minute decision not to enter the horse in the race.

"I worked him last week, and he bled just a little bit," said Cascio. "Not too much, just two or three little trickles. I just wanted to give him a break. I would have entered him if they didn't have enough horses and asked me to run, but they ended up with seven in there."

After a hard race in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and a heavy travel schedule, Gold Storm will get a well-earned rest.

"We vanned him to Santa Anita and back, we vanned him to Chicago and back, we vanned him to Keeneland and back," said Cascio.

To keep Gold Storm fresh during his travels, Cascio said he would stop every four hours to water or graze the horse.

"If I'm going to ship a horse, I'll do it myself," Cascio said. "If you send a horse on a long van ride without a break, when he gets there you're going to have a tired, sore horse if you don't stop."

Hawley has four on opening day

Bill Wilson, assistant to trainer Wes Hawley, bought a bacon-and-egg sandwich from the backstretch coffee wagon Monday morning and considered the chances of Aloha Bold, a longshot in the Thanksgiving Handicap.

"We're hoping to get a middle to outside post and get a close-up stalking trip, and hopefully he'll be there at the end," Wilson said. "We're expecting a big race out of him. We blew him out Saturday just to keep him going."

Wilson said the barn was looking forward to using the services of jockey Robby Albarado.

"We have four horses entered for Thursday, and Albarado gave us calls on three of them," said Wilson. "Two of the three races are short fields so we hope they'll go."

Wilson got his wishes. A couple of hours later, Aloha Bold drew post 6 for the Thanksgiving Handicap, all four horses made it in, and Albarado was named to ride three of them.

"You know how this game goes in cycles," Wilson mused. "Everything seems to be cycling for us right now."

Ebanks takes over Melancon's book

Jockey Gerard Melancon and his new agent, Ronnie Ebanks, sat down at the backstretch kitchen Tuesday morning to go over the Fair Grounds meet. Ebanks, who has represented such high-profile jockeys as Shane Sellers and Jorge Chavez, came in to handle his old friend's book because Melancon's agent, Jerry Harrison, is gravely ill.

"Jerry was with me for four and a half years," said Melancon. "We won a lot of races together. I was in the top 10 jockeys one year with him. He's ill with a tumor in his head. I've just spent the last three days with him. They can't do a biopsy because of where it is. They're going to operate on him Dec. 2. If the tumor is benign they'll remove it. If it's cancerous they'll treat it."

Ebanks and Melancon shared an apartment back in the 1980's.

"Me and Ronnie go back a long way," said Melancon. "We roomed together back when he was a jockey. We lived over in Fat City," a part of nearby Metairie known for its nightlife.

Melancon finished fourth in the jockey standings at Fair Grounds last season with 76 wins.

"I ride a little bit for everybody," he explained. "There are a bunch of small outfits who I ride for."

Ebanks may be able to use his Kentucky connections to secure mounts for Melancon now that Churchill Downs is running Fair Grounds.

"There's always been a strong contingent of Kentucky horsemen down here," said Ebanks. "There are a few more than usual this year.

"We're looking to have a really good meet. If I get him on favorites, he's going to win a lot of races. We're trying to find our spots. I'm going to be making a lot of phone calls."

Showtime for racetrackers

Ronnie Virgets, an Eclipse Award-winning turf writer and former Daily Racing Form correspondent at Fair Grounds, is currently starring in a theatrical piece based on horse racing lore. Titled "Win, Place, Show!" it is running at the New Orleans performance space Le Chat Noir.

"It's kind of a cabaret performance," said Virgets, who covered Fair Grounds for the Form during the 1970's. "Christian Champagne, who works at the track as a teller, is a local comedian who put the program together with myself and Larry Beron. We all tell our stories about the track. I think the audience is mostly racetrack people."

Champagne, whose family has been in New Orleans racing for 50 years, was asked to do the show after Le Chat Noir's artistic director, Barbara Motley, heard him telling racetrack stories informally.

"It's been better received than I expected," said Champagne.

The storytellers are surprised at some of the reactions from the crowd.

"When Larry tells a story about winning money, the crowd applauds as if it was really happening," said Virgets, whose own showstopping line is the time-worn adage, "I hope I break even. I could use the money."

The best story of the show is Champagne's true tale of the honest steward who discovered some fiscal shenanigans and brought the damning information to the attorney general in Baton Rouge.

The politician sat down with the steward, listened to the accusations, and announced, "There are a lot of crooks in this state, and I'm one of them!"

At a glance: Fair Grounds

RACING SCHEDULE: 82 days; Thursday through March 27; dark Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays through December; Tuesdays and Wednesdays until March 20 except Mardi Gras Day (Feb. 8); no racing Dec. 25.

POST TIME: 12:30 p.m. Central

ADMISSIONS: General, $1; clubhouse, $4.


LOCATION: 1751 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, Louisiana.

SIMULCASTING: Daily, except Tuesdays when Delta Downs is closed.

PHONE: (504) 944-5515

INTERNET: www.fairgroundsracecourse.com