01/03/2003 12:00AM

Never-claimed claimer a stakes horse now

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NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Danny Peitz had the jitters when Green Fee started in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but that wasn't the first time Green Fee had made him nervous.

Green Fee showed talent even before he first made it to the races in the fall of 1998, but Green Fee had more than his share of problems as a young horse. The worst of them was a badly curbed hock, which caused him to miss a year of training. Just hoping to get Green Fee back on track after the long layoff, Peitz ran the horse in a $45,000 claiming race in the summer of 2001 - then sweated, wondering if someone would claim him.

Rival trainers took a pass then, and took another one when Peitz raised Green Fee up to a $75,000 claimer after he lost his comeback. Green Fee went on to win two allowance races in that 2001 campaign. Peitz played the claiming game again this summer, bringing Green Fee back off a layoff in a $75,000 claimer. This time, Green Fee whistled, winning by four lengths while running a mile on turf in 1:32 and change, stakes-caliber time.

"I remember walking down to the winner's circle after the race thinking, god, I hope nobody took this horse," Peitz said.

They didn't, and by the end of last season Green Fee had won the

Grade 2 Kelso and more than $280,000. His latest layoff, since running fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, was much shorter than the last two, and for the first time in his life Green Fee basically is injury-free. He comes back now not in a claimer but in a stakes race, Sunday's $75,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley, and seems poised for an excellent season here.

"When I ran him for a tag I told the Lows [owners Robert and Lawana Low] we could end up running him for four more years or we could be in trouble after four or five starts," Peitz said.

When a good horse falls into the claiming ranks it often spells the beginning of the end. But for Green Fee, it was just the beginning.

Bonapaw to stretch out off mini-rest

Bonapaw got his first feel of Fair Grounds training this year when he had an easy jog here Friday morning. Off since finishing unplaced in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 30, Bonapaw was shipped from Six Oaks Farm across Lake Pontchartrain to trainer Norman Miller's Fair Grounds barn on Thursday night.

Miller himself drove Bonapaw here, which is typical of his relationship with the gelding. Miller took over Bonapaw's training late last spring when trainer Tucker Alonzo decided not to travel outside Louisiana. Miller did everything but sleep in Bonapaw's stall last year, driving the horse from Iowa to Chicago, and from Chicago to New York twice. Bonapaw rewarded Miller and owner Jimmy and Dennis Richard with a win in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont, but failed to make a dent in either the Breeders' Cup Sprint or the Cigar Mile.

From the Cigar Mile, Bonapaw went on holiday at Six Oaks. "He had 30 days in the paddock, and he didn't really do anything," Miller said. "The people at the farm said he went right to his feed tub and stayed there. He jogged the wrong way with the pony today and it was like we never stopped on him."

Bonapaw has been a Fair Grounds sprint kingpin the last two seasons, but a route race lies in his immediate future. Miller said Bonapaw's first start back from his layoff would come Feb. 9 in the Whirlaway Handicap, a two-turn race at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Bonapaw won the Hanshin Handicap, a one-turn mile, last summer, and won around two turns as a young horse, but a two-turn race against solid handicappers will be an experiment.

Histoire Sainte shops for spot

She's back, but now she has no place to go. Histoire Sainte just turned 7, but she showed in the Dec. 27 Furl Sail that her fondness for Fair Grounds hasn't diminished over time. In the Furl Sail, Histoire Sainte easily beat the favored Quick Tip, running her record on the Fair Grounds grass to a perfect 4 for 4. Imported to the U.S. from France early in 2000, Histoire Sainte has won in this country only once at a track other than Fair Grounds.

But now, since Fair Grounds dropped the Sixty Sails Handicap from its stakes schedule this season, Histoire Sainte has nothing to do here. The next grass stakes for older fillies is the Bayou Breeders' Cup, and that's on March 1. And even then, Histoire Sainte may not get to run.

"She's gotten rained off turf in the Bayou the last two years," pointed out her trainer, Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen hopes he can find an allowance race for Histoire Sainte before the Bayou - which she won three years ago - but there's almost no chance he would ship her away from the place she loves most.

"Her Furl Sail was typical of her races at Fair Grounds," Asmussen said. "I guess it can't last forever, but she's still getting it done."