02/21/2002 1:00AM

Look out: 'Baby' digs Laurel


Irving's Baby, a New York shipper who has run some of her best races at Laurel Park, returns for Saturday's $50,000 Maryland Racing Media Handicap.

The 1 1/8-mile stakes drew six fillies and mares.

Irving's Baby, trained by Todd Pletcher at Belmont Park, lost the lead late in the stretch of the 1 1/16-mile Nellie Morse at Laurel on Jan. 20. After producing a half-mile in a quick 47 seconds, Irving's Baby settled for second behind Case of the Blues, the half-length winner. The effort was a good one for Irving's Baby, who prefers longer races where she can carve out more moderate fractions.

The Nellie Morse also was a turning point of sorts for Irving's Baby, who had faced much stiffer competition in her two previous outings. Irving's Baby was eased in the stretch of the Grade 1 Beldame at Belmont Park in October and then was beaten 37 lengths in the Grade 3 Ladies at Aqueduct in December.

Since the Nellie Morse loss, Irving's Baby, a 5-year-old daughter of Quiet American, has had two sharp works, including a bullet five furlongs in 1:01.52, breezing, on Feb. 10. The move was the fastest of 29 works at the distance.

Last March, Irving's Baby, a homebred of Anstu Stables, won the Snow Goose at Laurel by eight lengths after leading from start to finish in the 1 1/4-mile race. The Snow Goose was a prelude to a big season for Irving's Baby, who won the Grade 3 Delaware Handicap and Glens Fall Handicap during the summer.

Irving's Baby has a record of 3-1-0 in four Laurel starts.

Ramon Dominguez has the mount on Irving's Baby, the likely pacesetter from post 1.

Irving's Baby's 122-pound weight assignment is seven to 12 pounds more than her rivals carry, but her foes will have to be at their best to beat her.

Trainer Tony Dutrow sends out Strike It Up, who also runs well at Laurel Park but hasn't kept the same company as Irving's Baby.

Double Trick is coming off a win for trainer Erik Juvonen at Aqueduct on Jan. 30. Double Trick controlled the pace and won the 1 1/16-mile race by 4 3/4 lengths over a tough allowance field, which included Poivre and Lovely Amanda.