01/07/2003 12:00AM

Run for Little Bit needs pace

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NEW ORLEANS - Deciphering Fair Grounds's featured ninth race on Friday probably doesn't require a degree in rocket science. Seven horses were entered, and four have early speed in varying degrees, from intense to moderate.

"I think the race sets up for a horse coming off the pace," trainer Tom Amoss said.

Amoss has entered Run for Little Bit in the allowance sprint for fillies and mares, and his horse is one of the three that prefer racing from behind the pace. While the race may develop in Run for Little Bit's favor, there is a question of whether she is ready to run her best. Friday's start will be her first since July 31, when she finished unplaced in a Churchill Downs allowance race, and this is the second time in her brief career that Run for Little Bit has spent several months on the sidelines.

"Any time you're looking at a horse coming back from a long layoff, you have to have serious questions," said Amoss, who trains Run for Little Bit for owner Nelson Bunker Hunt. "She has been working well."

Run for Little Bit won her first four starts, by a combined margin of 4 1/4 lengths, but has won only once in her last five tries. She hasn't won since June, though the conditions of this six-furlong race are for non winners of two "other than" since Oct. 9.

Run for Little Bit has won one race during the specified time period, while two of her opponents - Fuse It and Punching - seemingly fit the conditions better. But Punching remains eligible for a third-level allowance, theoretically a lower class than this race.

Punching, Extended View, Distinctive Code, and possibly Turner's Hall all figure to force a taxing pace.

Fuse It, one of the late movers, appears well suited to this spot, having won a statebred stakes on Dec. 15 at Delta Downs. Fuse It, a 5-year-old mare owned by Rowell Enterprises and trained by Samuel Breaux, steadily improved last year, while making a whopping 18 starts. Among them was a third in the A.P. Indy on turf last fall at Keeneland.

Besides Punching, trainer Steve Asmussen has entered late-running Cielo Girl. Her recent starts have come in stakes restricted to 3-year-olds.

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