12/11/2001 1:00AM

Rock Slide goes next in Louisiana Handicap


NEW ORLEANS - It was only grudgingly that trainer Neil Howard entered his promising colt Rock Slide in a turf allowance race here Sunday, but Rock Slide's easy three-length win left Howard more than satisfied. The turf win, however, will not alter Howard's plans for Rock Slide, who is set to make his stakes debut on dirt in the Dec. 29 Louisiana Handicap.

A 3-year-old A.P. Indy colt whose dam is the great broodmare Prospector's Delite, Rock Slide has been highly regarded since the beginning of his career, and though it took the colt some time to develop, he has now won three consecutive races, all in impressive fashion. When Howard and Rock Slide's principal owner, Will Farish, elected to pass the Tenacious Handicap here, they hoped Rock Slide would start in a third-level allowance race on dirt, but with the colt in need of a prep for the Louisiana, and with no suitable dirt race in sight, Howard settled for Sunday's turf spot.

"I think the main track is probably still going to be his thing," Howard said. "We're not going to make any drastic changes right now."

Sprint stars Bonapaw, Abajo may meet Sunday

Top local sprinters Bonapaw and Abajo could renew their rivalry Sunday in the $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Handicap, the second of five sprint stakes for older horses run at this meet. Abajo and Bonapaw each won two sprint stakes at this meet last season.

This year, Bonapaw easily won the first race in the series, the Thanksgiving Day Handicap, a race Abajo wasn't ready to compete in. But this time, it is Bonapaw's participation that is uncertain. Bonapaw slipped and fell outside trainer Tucker Alonzo's Fair Grounds barn last week and suffered superficial wounds. Alonzo said a mid-week workout here will determine Bonapaw's status for the Gaudin.

Abajo is a go for the Gaudin - which he won last year - his first start since a seventh-place finish April 12 in the Count Fleet at Oaklawn Park.

"He ran terribly in there and he wasn't training any good, so we sent him to Florida," said trainer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen said Abajo shipped to Fair Grounds about Nov. 1, and the horse has put in several breezes for his return to the races. The Gaudin is expected to draw a field of five or six.

* Saturday's $100,000 Pago Hop Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies at about one mile on turf, is expected to draw a full, well-matched field.