02/19/2003 12:00AM

Owner to Bonapaw: You go long

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NEW ORLEANS - Bonapaw won five sprint stakes at Fair Grounds the last two seasons, but it appears he won't run in even one this year.

Bonapaw's connections are so committed to making him a route horse that he wasn't even nominated to Sunday's six-furlong Taylor's Special Handicap. For Bonapaw, it's the New Orleans Handicap or bust.

Bonapaw, a Grade 1-winning sprinter last year, raced last in the Grade 3 Whirlaway here, his first two-turn race since the Evangeline Mile on Aug. 19, 2000. Bonapaw set the pace and finished third in the 1 1/16-mile Whirlaway, a solid if unspectacular effort. Dennis Richard, Bonapaw's co-owner, said he thought Bonapaw could improve in the New Orleans Handicap having added fitness in his recent two-turn start.

"He looks magnificent now," Richard said Wednesday. "He came back better from a route than he did at six furlongs. I know he can get a mile and a sixteenth, but a mile and an eighth in the New Orleans Handicap, we don't know. We're going to give it a shot."

Richard said Bonapaw is penciled in for a one-mile work here on Sunday, his major breeze for the New Orleans Handicap.

"With the race and this mile work, I'm hoping he's going to have a big improvement," he said. "He's going to have to with the horses they have coming in for this race."

Indeed, the March 2 New Orleans Handicap is shaping up as a deep, interesting race. Besides Bonapaw, the local runners will include Learned, Mineshaft, and Valhol. Best of the Rest and Booklet are expected to ship from Florida.

Aloha Bold one of the ones in Taylor's Special

With no Bonapaw, the $75,000 Taylor's Special lacks a standout, as did the other three sprint stakes here. Three different horses have won those three races, and it would be no surprise to see a fourth winner on Sunday.

One possibility is Aloha Bold, who worked a half-mile here Wednesday in 49.60 seconds. "We'll see how he comes out of the work and then decide" whether to run, said trainer Wes Hawley. "If he comes back okay, it's a go."

Owner Michael Cooper and Hawley claimed Aloha Bold for $75,000 here late last month. Hawley said he has claimed a horse for $50,000 before, but Aloha Bold is the biggest investment of his training career.

"But you always feel pressure when you claim one," Hawley said. "You feel pressure anytime your owner takes a horse."

Aloha Bold has won 9 of 15 starts, and the day of his claim he won an optional claimer by four lengths, running six furlongs in an outstanding 1:09.24. "I was excited, but I know how horses can run a big race like that and not come out of it well," Hawley said.

Hawley said he and Cooper had considered claiming Aloha Bold from trainer Tom Amoss when he first showed up for a claiming price two races ago, but decided to watch him run and jump in if he came back in for a tag. "We knew about the problems he has, ankles and other little things," Hawley said. "He worked six days ago and then today, and both times it was exceptional."

Aloha Bold will face a short field that is likely to include G.W.'s Deputy, Gracie's Dancer, Kazoo, and Mountain General. Doctor Mike is considered possible.

Training race fields are shrinking

The number of horses in training races continues to dwindle, and only 13 ran in two schooling heats Wednesday. Both five-furlong races were timed in 1:02.40, but the second heat seemed more promising than the first. In the first heat, Big League Lady finished a nose in front of Book the Devil after both fillies were ridden vigorously to the wire.

By contrast, neither of the one-two finishers in the second race was asked for much run in the stretch. Park Falls, trained by David Carroll, showed speed, won by three lengths, and galloped out with great energy. His rider had to work to pull him up well onto the backstretch. The second-place horse, Secreto's Ghost, trained by Billy McKeever, was full of run coming off the turn, split horses, and finished well without ever being asked. He might have gotten a bit tired late in the race and should be tighter for the experience.