If our drive were a racehorse, we'd be lengthening our stride and pulling away. That's very good news at the track. It's even better news in the fund-raising biz.

It boils down to this: Our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital is far ahead of where we were a year ago. We are closing in on our ambitious goal, and we may exceed it, perhaps comfortably.

Here are the numbers after seven weeks of our eight-week drive:

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Jan. 13: $566,306.49.

In hand at the same time last year: $491,436.26.

A week ago, we were about $70,000 ahead of where we had been during 1998-99. We have extended that margin to $75,000. If we are still that far ahead next week, when the adding machines clank to a stop, we will have gone well beyond that nice, round figure of $650,000.

But caution is born of experience, and my experience says that no one had better count chickens yet. The only fund-raising total that really counts is the last one. We never know if gifts will continue to arrive during the final week of our campaign. All we can do is round the corner, stare into the mailbox and hope.

That's where you readers come in.

You've always been there for us throughout the 51 years The Washington Post has run this holiday-season campaign. You obviously understand why this campaign is so critical. This year, and every year, it helps pay the bills of Children's patients who otherwise could not.

Your generosity never fails to amaze or delight me. How delicious to see people assure excellent health care for children they've never met and probably never will meet. Whenever I open an envelope and see one of your checks, I know that the old rap on Washington--that it's a city of uncaring transients--is false.

Let's show how false, in record fashion. Let's close our 1999-2000 campaign with a rush. Many thanks in advance.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.