01/07/2003 12:00AM

Surprise, Bonapaw named to Colonel Power

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NEW ORLEANS - The list of nominations released this past weekend for Sunday's $75,000 Colonel Power Handicap contained a familiar name, Bonapaw. Familiar, yes, but surprising, too.

Should Bonapaw actually start in the six-furlong Colonel Power - and his connections say there is a good chance of it - the race would come only nine days after Bonapaw returned to training at Fair Grounds after having spent

30 quiet days on Six Oaks Farm across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans. Last week, trainer Norman Miller and co-owner Dennis Richard suggested Bonapaw's first race back from his layoff could come Feb. 9 in the Whirlaway Handicap, but at the last moment they decided to nominate to the Colonel Power.

The Whirlaway remains the goal, both Richard and Miller said, but Bonapaw could use the Colonel Power as a springboard to that start, provided the weight that will be assigned to him Wednesday isn't too high.

"If they load us up with weight I'm not going to go," Richard said. "If they put 130 pounds or more on him I'll back out."

Putting a horse in a stakes race so soon after a freshening is highly unconventional, but Bonapaw's connections don't think he lost much conditioning during his layoff. They believe that Bonapaw, a notoriously fast work horse, will derive about the same benefits from a race this weekend as a scheduled six-furlong workout.

"I have to work him anyway, so maybe we'll take a shot at the Colonel Power," Richard said. "He might come up short, but that's okay. If we worked him, he's going to go in 1:09. He looks magnificent right now. But he's ready to jump out of his skin. He's two handfuls on the track right now, even with the pony."

Bonapaw has made his mark as a sprinter, dominating the sprint division at Fair Grounds the last two seasons and winning the Grade 1 Forego last fall. Though Bonapaw has twice won at a mile - once at two turns on turf, once at one turn on dirt - the Whirlaway would be his first true route race since the Evangeline Mile in August 2000. Dennis Richard, who owns Bonapaw with his twin brother, Jimmy, and Miller think a switch to route racing could help extend Bonapaw's career.

"If he can sustain his speed, it would be less hard on him than sprints," Richard said.

Mountain General and Kazoo, who won the first two sprint stakes this meet, also are expected for the Colonel Power.

Royal Spy earns a reprieve

Royal Spy ran his best race in a year and a half Sunday, winning the $75,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap here. Just in time, too. Trainer Tom Amoss was prepared to send Royal Spy by van to Ocala, Fla., for a freshening if he had not performed well in the Bradley.

"The owner [Vilasini Jayaraman] called me up and asked if I still wanted to ship him out," Amoss said. "I said no."

Instead, the revitalized Royal Spy will point for the $150,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Stakes here on Feb. 1.

Two summers ago, when he was trained by Cole Norman, Royal Spy was the terror of the Lone Star turf in that track's series of stakes races for 3-year-olds. Amoss recalled racing against Royal Spy that season and being awed by his performances, but Royal Spy's career sputtered last year. For Amoss, he won a turf stakes at Mountaineer Park this summer, but Royal Spy failed to reproduce his best Lone Star races.

A determined front-runner, Royal Spy is difficult to handle around the barn, his competitive spirit channeled into aggression. But that same behavior serves him well on the racetrack. At his best, Royal Spy can sustain a good pace over a distance of ground and, as he did Sunday, turn back challengers in the stretch.

"He was training really well, but I thought with his style it might be too much distance for him," Amoss said of the 1 1/16 miles of the Bradley. "It's funny how one race can change your opinion of a horse. Now, I look at the mile and an eighth of his next race and think maybe he can make a clear early lead."

Connected points to Whirlaway

Connected came out of his win Jan. 2 in the Louisiana Handicap in good health, but trainer David Carroll said Connected was likely to skip Fair Grounds's next route handicap race, the Jan. 19 Diplomat Way, and point for the $125,000 Whirlaway on Feb. 9.

"If he ran a big race there we could look at the New Orleans Handicap," Carroll said.

From a combination of tough luck and circumstances, Connected had gone 14 months without winning. The way he ran last week - bulling his way between horses in midstretch and drawing away at the finish - showed that even at age 6, Connected is capable of putting together a graded-stakes-class performance.

- A $92,000 pick-six payoff here Monday was the highest since closing day of the 1998-1999 season. The pick six is not nearly as popular here as in California and New York, and before $4 worth of winning tickets were sold Monday, nobody had won the bet since Dec. 22, over eight racing days.