03/16/2004 12:00AM

Straight from the trainer's mouth


NEW ORLEANS - It is like wind coming over a lake. The talk gusts around the railbirds in the grandstand and up through the glittering pinkie rings in the clubhouse's private rooms. Be it $2 or $2,000, you can bet your money: Bobby likes this horse.

"Every time I run a first-timer from Europe with any kind of form, he goes off favored," said trainer Bobby Frankel. And then he added: "Whether I like the horse or not."

One of those Europeans, Burning Sun, made his United States debut Feb. 29 at Santa Anita. He was 4-5, and this time the money was right: Frankel liked the horse. It was only a second-level allowance, but Burning Sun tracked a slow pace and finished very fast to win comfortably.

"I think he's as good as Beat Hollow," Frankel said. "Look at the race. He came home in 10 [seconds] and change."

Sunday at Fair Grounds, Burning Sun, 5, can justify Frankel's optimism in the Grade 2, $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap. Formerly the Explosive Bid, the race's name was changed this year to honor Fair Grounds's longtime director of racing. Muniz died last fall.

Because Beat Hollow finished second to Sarafan in the 2002 Explosive Bid and went on to win the Arlington Million that season, Frankel's comparison carries weight. But the Muniz should be no cakewalk for Burning Sun, even if he is top class.

Nationwide, the older turf division is star-starved, and the Muniz could produce leaders. Frankel said he is also sending Nothing to Lose, second to Sweet Return in the Jan. 19 San Marcos, which was Nothing to Lose's first start as a 4-year-old and first for Frankel. Silver Tree, Proud Man, and Willard Straight are shipping from Florida. Fair Grounds racing officials hoped Kicken Kris would come, but his participation was considered doubtful Monday. The local contingent, headed by Mystery Giver, Skate Away, and Herculated, is unusually strong: All three have earned Beyer Speed Figures here that are among the top grass numbers in the country.

Each year, Frankel receives some older horses, like Burning Sun, from his powerful client Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms. What has worked and failed in Europe doesn't apply to what will unfold in this country, and Frankel said he doesn't rely on sophisticated information to bring a European import into his program.

"I look at the European form on these horses," Frankel said. "This horse, he was one of the early favorites for the Epsom Derby. You go on their soundness and how they're training."

Burning Sun was a promising 3-year-old in the summer of 2002, earning high Timeform ratings while winning a listed stakes at Ascot and the Grade 2 Eugene Adam at Maisons-Laffitte. But last year was a wash. Burning Sun raced three times, and, after finishing a close third in early May, he was a distant fifth in his next two races and didn't start again until the Santa Anita allowance.

"They thought a lot of him as a young horse, but he went off form last year," said Frankel. "They just rested him and sent him to me."

Such straight-on comments speak volumes about Frankel's methods. He does not hold forth on training techniques or the subtle analyses that distinguish a hot prospect from an impending flop. Somehow he knows, and he knows he knows.

"I never let them run in the morning," he said. "I trust what I see in their form: how they're moving and how they're going."

Frankel said such judgments "never leave the barn." Those gusts of hype blow from his amazing record over the last several seasons. "It's just people guessing," he said.

Now the word on Burning Sun really is out: Bobby likes this one.