01/06/2004 1:00AM

First-time Maker money play


NEW ORLEANS - So far, the strategy of investing in every horse making its first start for trainer Becky Maker has been sound. Maker, in her second year as a head trainer, has run 19 such horses, winning with five of them for a whopping average return on a $2 investment of $4.33.

In the Fair Grounds featured ninth race Thursday, Galatea Cat makes her first start since entering Maker's barn. Maker hasn't done anything extraordinary to change the way Galatea Cat trains and races, and to win this start, she shouldn't have had to.

"With new horses, I try to get as much information about them as I can," Maker said. "I'll make changes if I need to, but with an older mare like her, I try to stick with what she's used to."

Galatea Cat came to a career crossroads last August, when, after 16 trips to the post, she made her first start in a grass race. At odds of 24-1, she won a $50,000 claiming sprint at Arlington, and validated her affinity for the surface two weeks later with a good second to the crack turf sprinter Nicole's Dream. At about 5 1/2 furlongs, and on a course that tends to favor closers, Thursday's race, a second-level allowance with a $40,000 claiming option, should suit Galatea Cat.

Turf or otherwise, Maker likes what she has been seeing from Galatea Cat, who breezed a solid five furlongs here Dec. 29, her main work for this start.

"She's been moving really good on the dirt in her training," said Maker. "I think she'd be okay right now on any type surface."

Galatea Cat has nine opponents, including one stabled right around the corner from her in barn 20 at Fair Grounds. That is Hondo Creek, who was sixth here Dec. 5 in a dirt sprint but won the last time she raced over this grass course. Hondo Creek should stay closer than Galatea Cat to what figures to be a fast pace, and the speed of the speed may prove to be Parting.

Parting was beaten a nose at this class level here the last time she raced, but her trainer, Ronny Werner, isn't certain his filly will take to turf, and her pedigree offers little insight into the surface switch.

"She's got a ton of gas, but speed doesn't hold real well on this course," Werner said. "It wouldn't break my heart if the race came off [the turf]."