Two years ago, Eric Freedlander of Doswell, Va., paid $8,500 for a Virginia-bred weanling named Little Richie, but he became unsure about the colt's future.

"He was uncontrollable," Freedlander said. "He ran into three fences and, at one point, his knees were cut down to the bone. I not only wasn't sure he'd ever race, I wasn't sure he'd live."

Little Richie made his presence felt at Laurel yesterday as he rallied to win the $47,260 Virginia Stallion Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths over favored Sir Riddle. Truce Breaker was a distant third.

Although Little Richie entered the race a nonwinner -- running fourth to top-rated 2-year-old maidens in his only start -- Freedlander and trainer Mert Bailes knew there wasn't much to beat.

"We'd been pointing for this race all along," said Bailes. "And after we didn't make it into a race we thought would get us here, we figured to go ahead with our plan."

Little Richie, 53 to 1 in his debut, was 7 to 1 in yesterday's eight-horse field. His seven-furlong gallop in 1:26 2/5 was a positive reflection on Bailes, who put a 3 x 3-foot mirror in Little Richie's stall to try to calm him.

"It seems to work," Bailes said. "Now he thinks there's someone else in there with him."

Catatonic, a come-from-behind mare trained by King Leatherbury, is the highweighted, 5-to-2 morning favorite in today's $50,000-added Carousel Handicap at Laurel.

Catatonic will concede six pounds to Smart 'N Quick, to whom she lost her previous stakes start by a half-length; seven to Pot Of Antics, who has won three of her last four, and nine to Kerygma, who enters the 1 1/8-mile race in the best form of her career.

Kerygma stunned fans at Laurel -- and her trainer, Barclay Tagg -- with her four-length victory in the Cover Girl Handicap. The fact that she won was of no great surprise; it was the way she did it. Traditionally a late-running distance filly, Kerygma dueled for the lead in 46 2/5 seconds, then drew off under a hand ride by Allen Stacy, finishing six furlongs in 1:11.