12/12/2008 12:00AM

Groovy Luck figures out front in turf sprint

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Thoroughbred owner Bobby Asaro has employed brand-name horsemen like Tom Amoss and Steve Asmussen over the course of almost two decades in the racing game. But to handle the 5-year-old gelding Groovy Luck, one of four horses Asaro currently owns, he turned to Norman Miller III, something less than a household name among the ranks of trainers.

Miller, who is based across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, has saddled just 21 horses to race in 2008, and his two wins on the year have come courtesy of Groovy Luck, one of the entries in the featured ninth race Sunday at Fair Grounds. Groovy Luck didn't race between July 2006 and November 2007, but he won his first start back from the long layoff for Miller, and all told he has gone 3 for 7 over the last 13 months.

"Norman, he's like a horse whisperer or something," Asaro said this week. "He really gets in there and does a good job."

Followers of the Fair Grounds scene might first recall Miller as the groom for Bonapaw, a crack sprinter owned by the Richard brothers of New Orleans. Bonapaw took Miller and the Richards all the way to Dubai, where he finished sixth in the 2002 Golden Shaheen. Upon returning to the United States, Miller took over Bonapaw's training from Tucker Alonzo, and later in the year, Bonapaw won the Grade 1 Vosburgh.

But post-Bonapaw, success has been intermittent for Miller, and Groovy Luck might well rank as his best horse. Sprinting on turf, Groovy Luck has been really reliable, with three wins and a near-miss second in four grass races the last two calendar years. He hasn't been out since Sept. 26 at Louisiana Downs, but Groovy Luck does quite well fresh and is the rare front-running turf horse who can sustain his speed over the Fair Grounds grass; last season, he won two $25,000 claimers on the local course.

Groovy Luck looks like the controlling speed of Sunday's turf sprint, a second-level allowance at about 5 1/2 furlongs also open to horses - like Groovy Luck - entered for a $40,000 claiming tag. There are nine in the race's main body, and the two others entered main-track-only will have to deal with Icetate if the race is rained onto dirt. Icetate probably has a decent chance on turf, but on dirt he looms a potential standout, coming off a blowout entry-level allowance win in the first race of this meet.