05/07/2002 12:00AM

Firsters are Lage's specialty


SAN MATEO, Calif. - Trainer Armando Lage believes the first start may be the most important of a horse's career, so he tries to do everything he can to prepare.

That may explain why he shows an impressive $3.72 flat-bet return with debut runners.

Lage enters two colts in Bay Meadows's Thursday feature, a 4 1/2-furlong race for 2-year-olds: Big Money Maker and Historic Moment. Historic Moment, owned by Golden Eagle Farm, will be coupled in the wagering with Sweet Dreamer, who is trained by Chuck Jenda.

Both of Lage's starters have bullet drills, and both have also worked five furlongs.

"All trainers think differently, but to me, it's very important the first time out to have horses run well," he said. "I don't want them coming back really tired and really scared of how hard they have to run.

"The first race is important. If the first race is too stressful, it might hurt them their whole life."

Some trainers, Lage noted, "like to give them one race to learn. I believe they learn a lot in the first race, but it shouldn't be too stressful."

Lage believes fitness is important coming into the first race so that a horse doesn't get too tired.

It's a philosophy that football coach Vince Lombardi once explained. "Fatigue makes cowards of us all," he said.

That's why Lage likes to get at least one five-furlong work into a 2-year-old before racing.

"With 2-year-olds, you have to be extra careful," Lage said. "They're like little kids. What you show them now will turn out to be important down the line. I think a lot of nervous horses may have had a bad experience early in their careers."

Lage has confidence in Big Money Maker and thinks he could live up to his name.

"The first time we worked him three-eighths, he came out of it like nothing had happened," Lage said. "He worked five-eighths like nothing. He does everything without effort. He's never been pushed hard."

Whereas Historic Moment, Lage said, "comes back tired," Big Money Maker "does everything you ask him.

"The other day, I told the exercise rider to drop him behind some horses that were working so he'd get dirt in his face. He did, but before they got to the wire, he went by them. That shows he wants to do it."

ALS benefit

Jockey agent Ray Harris is spearheading the annual Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease) fund-raising bowling event scheduled for June 3 at Granada Bowl in Livermore. Entry fee for five-person teams is $150, including three games of bowling and a spaghetti dinner.

For information, contact Harris or Granada Bowl at 925-447-5600.

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