03/28/2007 11:00PM

Now It Begins looks solid

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The word was out that first-time starter Now It Begins had talent when she ran on March 1 at Laurel Park. Sent off as the 9-5 favorite in a field of eight 3-year-old maiden fillies, Now It Begins made it look easy by drawing off to a 6 1/4-length victory.

Fortified by two recent bullet workouts since her impressive debut, Now It Begins will leap directly into stakes company for Saturday's $90,000 Smart Halo at Laurel.

The Mike Trombetta-trained Now It Begins will break from the rail under Mario Pino against six other 3-year-old fillies, including two stakes winners, going six furlongs.

There are several reasons to believe in Now It Begins. Her dam, Carna, was a half-sister to Algar, a horse good enough to win the Maryland Million Classic twice and the Laurel Turf Cup. Now It Begins is a daughter of Two Punch, best known as the sire of champion sprinter Smoke Glacken.

Statistically, Trombetta excels with second-time starters in sprints, winning 36 percent (9 for 25) since January 2005.

Laila's Punch is clearly the filly to beat in the Smart Halo.

She has turned in three consecutive strong races since losing her debut over a wet track in a stakes last September.

Trained by Eddie Gaudet, Laila's Punch dominated the 5 1/2-furlong Marshua in early January, then was narrowly beaten when she stretched out to a mile a month later. She returns showing a series of sharp works at the Bowie Training Center.

Cajun Hottie beat Pennsylvania-breds in the Blue Mountain Juvenile at Penn National last fall, but didn't show her usual early zip when she was brought to Maryland for the Marshua. Although Cajun Hottie has been off for nearly three months, her trainer, Ron Glorioso, is 3 for 10 with a $2.58 return on investment with horses returning in 61 to 180 days the past two seasons.

Carolina Fuego ships in from New York for high-percentage trainer Tony Dutrow. She will be making her stakes debut after running well in an optional claimer over Aqueduct's inner track.

Paying Off will be shortening up slightly in distance following a confidence-boosting romp over first-level allowance runners.

* The season's first turf race, a $25,000 optional claimer at one mile, drew a full field of 14. It follows the Smart Halo as race 9, and is the first leg of the final Magna 5 of the season.