12/20/2006 1:00AM

Schultz returning for a test drive


The 73-year-old trainer Robert Schultz spent some 25 years stabling at a training center in northwest Louisiana and racing primarily at Louisiana Downs, but with the promise of serious racing in Texas during the late 1990's, Schultz returned to the state of his birth and has been based at Lone Star, Sam Houston, and Retama ever since. But Schultz, like so many others, has gotten discouraged with the stagnant Texas racing scene, and said he is returning next year to Louisiana with his entire stable.

This weekend, however, Schultz is coming to New Orleans with Mystery Classic, who will race Saturday in the $75,000 Bonapaw Stakes, which is carded for turf, but could easily be washed onto the main track with rain in the local forecast through the rest of this week.

Mystery Classic may be one of the best horses Schultz ever has trained. A 3-year-old Mystery Storm gelding bred in Texas and owned by an attorney named John Pierce, Mystery Classic has won 7 of 10 lifetime starts, and 7 of 9 since Schultz took over his training early this year. After two first-level allowance losses at the Lone Star meet, Mystery Classic has reeled off seven consecutive wins. In his most recent start, his first try against older horses in a stakes race, he won the Texas-bred Spirit of Texas by almost two lengths despite breaking slowly from the rail.

"I really don't know how good this horse might be," Schultz said. "We've been running with the company that's not that tough, and this is really going to be a test for him to find out what kind of horse we might have."

Mystery Classic has raced only once on turf, winning an open entry-level sprint allowance on the Lone Star course, and Schultz feels Mystery Classic is equally comfortable racing on grass.

"I felt like it moved him up," he said.

There's some talent in the Bonapaw, but most of it is dirt talent. Tom Amoss entered two in the race: Smalltown Slew, who was second in the Thanksgiving Handicap, and Monkey Hill, who came on steadily through much of 2006, but hasn't raced since late July.

Storm Surge may not go on grass

Storm Surge wasn't entered main-track-only in the Bonapaw, but trainer Dallas Stewart said he was likely to scratch Storm Surge if the race remains on turf.

"He's never run on grass before," Stewart said.

Storm Surge, who came back from a long layoff to win an off-the-turf allowance last month at Churchill, is one of two proven stakes-class sprinters Stewart has at Fair Grounds. The other is Clock Stopper, who won the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup in April 2005 but didn't race again until Nov. 19, when he finished a fading sixth at Churchill. Clock Stopper has since breezed three times at Fair Grounds, and Stewart still seems to have confidence in the horse. He said Clock Stopper might start next in the Jan. 13 Colonel Power Handicap, a race in which he finished second two years ago.

Stewart, whose 7 wins from 21 starters put him in a tie for second in the Fair Grounds trainer standings, also said he probably would enter Great Discovery in Sunday's Sugar Bowl Stakes. Great Discovery won a Churchill maiden race by more than three lengths in his most recent start.