10/17/2002 12:00AM

Miller rubs Bonapaw the right way

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Bonapaw is the first horse to have completed his formal training for the Breeders' Cup. He worked five furlongs here Monday in a lively 57.80 seconds and now will gallop up to his race in the Sprint, which is one of the most competitive events on the World Championship card of Oct. 26.

Bonapaw marches to his own music, as orchestrated by trainer Norman Miller. Most horses work for a race four, five, six days in advance, but Miller has determined that Bonapaw is most effective with 12 days between his final workout and his race. Most horses don't work as fast as Bonapaw lest they use themselves up prematurely, but Miller feels Bonapaw handles brisk fractions easily.

Almost everything about Bonapaw is distinctive. He is the only horse we know who is massaged for an hour each morning before he works or gallops. He is surely one of a very few Breeders' Cup horses whose trainer has only one horse in his stable. Miller not only trains and massages Bonapaw but he also serves as his exercise rider and his chauffeur. When Bonapaw came here from Belmont Park after his convincing victory in the prestigious Vosburgh Handicap last month, Miller drove the van for the 16-hour trip.

The unusual lifestyle seems to agree with Bonapaw, who won three nice stakes in his last three starts, including the Arlington Park Sprint at the same six-furlong distance as next week's Sprint.

Despite the presence of such quick horses as Orientate, Swept Overboard, Disturbingthepeace, Kona Gold, Xtra Heat, and Carson Hollow, Bonapaw, whose earnings are over the million-dollar mark, is expected to have strong support.

"Even if he wins there will be snickering because we do things a bit differently," Miller notes. "It doesn't bother me. They laughed at the Wright Brothers. I know we've got a fine horse here and he is ready to do his best."

Miller grew up in Chicago, where his grandfather was the track superintendent at Hawthorne and his father was a jockey agent. He fought in Vietnam, spent several years at the University of New Orleans, and began a training career some 25 years ago.

About 15 years ago, when his stable was off form, he came to the conclusion that his horses, like athletes, might benefit from stress point massage. He studied the subject, attended seminars, and began rubbing the $5,000 horses he trained at the time.

"There was a lot to learn but I worked at it," Miller said, "because I knew that it would be of value someday if I ever got the opportunity to train a good horse. That opportunity came when the Richard brothers [owners Dennis and James Richard] came to me and asked if I would help them with a horse who had ability but wasn't getting the job done."

Miller's approach isn't a magical formula and it doesn't work with every horse. But Bonapaw responded to Miller's program and his disposition, once cantankerous, also changed for the better. Where once he was a problem in the paddock and at the gate, he now goes about his job in a professional manner. Miller rubs him the right way and he is a horse of a different choler.