12/20/2007 12:00AM

Rain a factor in Bonapaw

EmailA dry early winter in New Orleans turned suddenly sodden Thursday, and the change in the weather could significantly impact Saturday's $100,000 Bonapaw Stakes at Fair Grounds. Last year's Bonapaw was rained off turf and onto dirt, and even if that doesn't happen again, the rain certainly has altered the complexion of the Fair Grounds grass course.

"It really hasn't rained much down here, and it's been pretty firm," trainer Steve Asmussen said Thursday. "Now, it's raining all day, so it's definitely going to be wet."

The softened course doesn't thrill Asmussen, at least as it pertains to Stormin Baghdad, who makes his turf debut in the 5 1/2-furlong Bonapaw. Stormin Baghdad won the Thanksgiving Handicap on opening day, and has a pedigree at least mildly slanted toward turf. Still, Stormin Baghdad's surface transition might have been easier on a course playing more like dirt; on a wet course with plenty of give, his form may be less likely to transfer.

Of course, by the time the Bonapaw rolls around, Asmussen may already have had himself a day. The Bonapaw is the fourth in a series of $100,000 sprint stakes, and Asmussen has the likely favorite in the first three. Stormin Baghdad could also wind up as the mild chalk and should fit well at the race's short-sprint distance.

"The five and one-half, his success on synthetics, I thought it'd be a good spot for him," Asmussen said.

Stormin Baghad figures to race close to the early pace; Asmussen has another horse, Natural Speed, who should come from farther back. Natural Speed closed from fifth place to easily win the Great Falls on Oct.o13 at the Meadowlands in his only prior turf race.

Mystery Classic ships from Sam Houston to take his second shot in the Bonapaw; last year, he finished fifth after dueling on the early pace.

"It's going to be a different ball game than what we've been hooking," trainer Bob Schultz said. "But the horse is pretty sharp right now."

Mystery Classic is always pretty sharp. He's won 12 of 17 career starts and is capable of more than he showed in the 2006 Bonapaw. Mystery Classic finished fourth on June 1 in his last race over wet turf, but that was a comeback race being used as a prep for a stakes race, and Mystery Classic does not necessarily need firm turf to produce his best.