08/05/2007 2:30PM

Baby Step

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If you had told me I'd take my first baby step toward getting well for the meeting on a baby race, I'd have told you that was impossible and that you must have me confused with juvenile-guru Dan Illman. I rarely bet firster-loaded 2-year-old races but rather try to survive them in multirace sequences, and lean heavily on the toteboard for guidance. But when I finally did something smart today, it was in a baby race with a horse who was classically "dead on the board."

Today's second race, for 2-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs, drew a field of just six: two who had run at Churchill, closing late in the same fast-paced race, and first-timers from Pletcher, Mott, Zito and Rusty Arnold. I didn't like the two Churchillians, whose running lines had been dressed up by clunking up into a collapsing race. The Pletcher firster was from a mediocre mare and seemed better suited for grass. As I said at Siro's this morning, the one who intrigued me the most was Rusty Arnold's Morakami. The Fusaichi Pegasus colt l filly looked more like a win-early type, having been produced by Astrid, a sprinter who won the My Juliet and Serena's Song. And Arnold had tremendous trainer stats in situations like this -- 20 percent with firsters and 24 percent with 2yo's, both with a positive ROI.

I was charting daily-double probables looking for any support for Morakami but found none. I did, however, see a ton of late double money pour in on the Mott firster, Sunday Holiday. With nine minutes to post, the probable for a Smart Bunny-Sunday Holiday double was $63. At post time, it was down to $42, a serious hit. During that same time, the Smart Bunny-Morakami double stagnated from $110 to $114.

Unfortunately, I loved Sumwonlovesyou more than Smart Bunny in the first, and tried to get out for the meeting with a cold Sumwonlovesyou-Morakami punch, with much smaller savers on Smart Bunny-Morakami, Sumwonlovesyou-Sunday Holiday and Smart Bunny-Sunday Holiday. But Sumwonlovesyou didn't love me or nine furlongs. She got the lead and the rail and briefly looked home free but quit after a mile and Smart Bunny scored at an unexciting 5-2.

The betting in the second was just like it was in the doubles, with Sunday Holiday getting whacked from 7-2 to 2-1 in the final five minutes while Morakami drifted from 7-1 to 10-1. At that price, I made this old-fashioned thing my grandfather once told me about, a win bet, and a small exacta box with Sunday Holiday.

Sunday Holiday broke right to the lead like a good thing as Morakami chased from the outside post. Sunday Holiday looked strong turning for home but Morakami kicked in harder. She took over late, and scored by two lengths but....Inquiry! Morakami had drifted in slightly in the final furlong. It was a lesser infraction than several the stewards have let slide at the meeting, but maybe they'd think it was time to overcompensate and get tough? Fortunately not, and the result stood, with a $23.40 win mutuel, a $114 double and a $100 exacta. Phew.

Of course the moment I finished patting myself on the back for smoking out Morakami, I couldn't have been more wrong in the third race, where Russian Gypsy won on the lead at 7/5 in a race I had figured for a meltdown. My big pick-fours went up in smoke, leaving me alive with only a $2 6,8/1,7,8 and $1 6,8/2,6 and 2,9/1 tickets in the last two legs. But maybe if I can beat one of the big chalks in the next two races it could still be okay.

I'm probably going to quit playing baby races while I'm ahead on them. I still can't help feeling like a guy who loses for the day with his rational opinions at Saratoga and then makes a little score buying Lotto tickets or playing his lucky numbers at the trotters.