03/22/2005 12:00AM

At age 8, Lilah hits her best stride

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Matt Dean/EQUI-PHOTO
Lilah, an 8-year-old mare trained by Allen Jerkens, wins the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie under Rajiv Maragh.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Allen Jerkens has become known as the Giant Killer for pulling off some of the biggest upsets in racing history, but few of those famous victories satisfied the legendary horseman more than watching Lilah, an 8-year-old mare, finally get her first graded-stakes win in Sunday's Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie Handicap.

"It certainly was a pleasant surprise to see her win like that," Jerkens said. "But as Hirsch Jacobs liked to say, 'Better to be surprised than disappointed.'"

Lilah bounced back from one of those disappointing performances as the even-money favorite in an optional claiming race earlier in the meet to post two straight impressive allowance wins prior to the Hurricane Bertie. But she had never quite been up to handling stakes company until Sunday.

"She ran a huge race here last winter running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03, but never really got any credit for it," said Jerkens, who trains Lilah for a longtime client, Jack Dreyfus's Hobeau Farm. "But that's the first time she was ever at her best when in against the best."

Jerkens said there had been talk of breeding Lilah this season, but those plans will probably be put on the back burner.

"Mr. Dreyfus enjoys seeing his horses run, and it would make little sense to stop on her now when she's on top of her game," said Jerkens. "There's nothing else for her down here, but I might think about trying her in the Genuine Risk when we return to New York."

Jerkens said he plans to ship back to New York during the first week of April, but not before possibly starting Kennel Up in the Artax Handicap on April 2.

"I'll leave here two weeks from today," Jerkens said Monday. "That's when I'll bring Medallist home. I'd like to win a Grade 1 with him if I can, so we'll try him in the Carter next. Unfortunately it looks like it's coming up one of the tougher sprint races of the year so far. But you can't win one if you don't run in it."

Where will 'Penny' turn up next?

Trainer George Weaver began the long journey to Dubai on Monday to join up with Saratoga County, who will compete in Saturday's $2 million Golden Shaheen. But before leaving, Weaver sent out Yankee Penny for another one-sided victory that has had his phone ringing off the hook with offers to purchase the undefeated and untested 3-year-old filly.

"The offers have been coming in pretty good," said Weaver's wife and assistant, Cindy, who has been overseeing Yankee Penny's training at Palm Beach Downs. "But right now there are no plans to sell her."

Yankee Penny, a daughter of Quiet American owned by John Peace, launched her career with an easy 10 1/2-length maiden victory going a mile. She came back Saturday on three weeks' rest to register a 6 1/2-length first-level allowance triumph at the same distance.

"She won pretty easy again," Cindy Weaver said. "She did get a little tired in the stretch, but that was to be expected after having that loose horse sitting on her hip and pushing her for much of the way."

Weaver, who was trainer Todd Pletcher's top exercise rider for many years, knows a thing or two about good horses, and said she thinks Yankee Penny could fit into that category.

"We'd like to take our time with her, although she's a pretty good-feeler - aggressive in her training, and doesn't allow you to give her many easy days," Weaver said. "That's one reason why we brought her back in only three weeks. But she's like a machine. She does everything right, and I don't think she'll have any problem going two turns."

Weaver said there are no plans for Yankee Penny's next start.

"The Ashland is coming up, but that might be a little quicker and steeper than we'd like to go with her right now," said Weaver. "I'm not sure we want to try her just yet against more seasoned horses like that."

Yankee Penny's victory on Saturday was part of a five-race win streak for the Weaver barn that was snapped when Louis the Slew finished fifth in Monday's eighth race.

"I just hope we can keep the streak going with Saratoga County," said Weaver. "I'm going to be nervous but excited waiting for Dubai, but I hear he's doing really well over there, so hopefully he'll run another big race for us."