Life is a strain with a horse like Amerrico's Bullet, or so Jesse Bailey will have you believe.

"With all his problems, you've got to work on him day in and day out," Bailey said. "If we had his problems, we wouldn't even get out of bed in the morning."

They've managed to get the battle-scarred 4-year-old out of his stall and onto the track for 14 races this year, and all Amerrico's Bullet has done is win $101,544.

He has an appointment in today's $50,000-added Duck Dance Handicap, sprinting, as always, against five others. It's a tough spot in the face of New Jersey-based Born To Shop and Kechi, and local stakes winner Northern Wolf, but Bailey is familiar with the role. He's primarily a claiming trainer who runs an eight-horse stable; Amerrico's Bullet happens to be his greatest buy, a $25,000 claim who has brought him more than $80,000.

"I took him because he was a steady runner," said Bailey, who has trained since 1977. "He was right there all the time no matter where you put him."

A speedy Maryland-bred, Amerrico's Bullet won Pimlico's J. Edgar Hoover Handicap in a desperate finish over Kechi. Bailey thinks his best race was the follow-up, a third-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Handicap in which Amerrico's Bullet broke 1:10 for six furlongs.

Judging the times over the first two days of Laurel's summer meeting, there's no telling how fast the Duck Dance might be run. Tangi's Squaw, a 4-year-old filly, won a $12,000 claiming race in a career-best 1:10 1/5 for six furlongs, and most other races went remarkably fast as well.

Laurel's six-furlong mark is 1:08 3/5, set by Secret Emotion in the winter of 1980.

Amerrico's Bullet was assigned 113 pounds for the Duck Dance, fewer than anyone except Two Eagles (who makes his first start with Lasix today). Born To Shop, the 120-pound highweight, has been third or better in all 18 of his starts since 1989. Karmani Takes to Turf

Karmani strode the very Laurel grass course on which his father won the Washington, D.C. International, and came away with his first turf victory yesterday. A 5-year-old who had been sidelined nearly two years before 1990, Karmani set the pace under Donnie Miller Jr. and barely held off Devil's Fortune to take the $19,000 allowance feature.

Run the Gantlet, Karmani's sire, took the '71 International.