02/02/2002 1:00AM

Raymond Springs showing all the signs


OLDSMAR, Fla. - There's nothing quite like the excitement of being involved with a young horse who shows signs of being something special. Trainer Kathleen O'Connell has been around long enough to know that the promising youngster of today can be the disappointment of tomorrow, but she can't help being a bit excited about a playful 3-year-old Wekiva Springs colt named Raymond Springs.

Raymond Springs, who overcame the rail post and a slow start to win his debut by seven lengths, took the second step in his career Thursday when he tried winners and seven furlongs for the first time.

He passed with flying colors.

Raymond Springs raced just off the flank of leader Tweentheline for five furlongs. Tweentheline opened a clear lead in the stretch, but Raymond Springs wore him down for a neck win in a creditable 1:25.17.

Now O'Connell must walk a fine line by placing Raymond Springs in races that will test him while not discouraging his competitive nature.

"I'm just going to try and find a two-other-than allowance, but those races for straight 3-year-olds aren't filling too well at Tampa, so I don't know what we'll wind up doing with him," O'Connell said Saturday. "We want him to continue to learn, but I don't want to put him in someplace where he'll get crushed. I've seen too many good young horses get their spirit broken by being dumped in against tough company too soon in their careers. Right now he's happy and learning, and that's the way we want to keep it.

"He's still learning, still figuring out what it's all about. You could see he would run to those horses then sort of gawk and play around a little bit. If he ever puts it all together, and he's getting better and better as we go along, he could be a nice one."

The colt was sent to O'Connell in December, and she took a liking to him right from the start.

"He was a playful, happy colt, which a lot of young horses are, but he had such a beautiful way of going on the track, very fluid and smooth, that you could see the potential," she said.

Raymond Springs has some good company in the O'Connell barn. The stable has eight wins at the meet and sports a winning percentage of over 25.

New challenge for Secret Romeo

Trainer Gerald Bennett said he may try Super Stakes winner Secret Romeo in the $85,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup at 1 1/16 miles on the turf Feb. 16.

Secret Romeo, who won 9 of 12 last season and ran the fastest seven furlongs of the meeting (1:22.62) while upsetting a strong field in the Super, has never run on the turf, but Bennett is confident he'll handle the going.

"We worked him on the turf and he went five furlongs in 59 and change and just skipped over it, so I'm sure he can handle it," Bennett said. "Now we have to see what type of competition that $85,000 will bring."