02/10/2004 1:00AM

Clement high on Meridiana


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Christophe Clement liked the chances of Group 1 winner Meridiana heading into the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap in her 2003 finale, but he came away scratching his head after she finished far back.

returns against allowance competition on Thursday at Gulfstream Park in the $40,000 turf feature and Clement again expects good things from this talented filly who has yet to show her best form since coming to the U.S. last summer.

"I was really puzzled after the Long Island," said Clement. "I was very disappointed in her performance and had no explanation why she ran so poorly, which I don't like. I've been waiting anxiously to run her back."

Meridiana, a German-bred daughter of Lomitas, won 4 of her 6 starts in Europe, including the Group 1 Oaks d'Italia last May. She came to America with trainer Hans Blume but was soundly defeated in both the American Oaks and the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Handicap before being turned over to Clement in New York.

"She looks well and is working well for this race, and obviously the competition will be a lot easier than in her last few starts," said Clement. "This race is at a mile and one-sixteenth, but any distance from a mile to a mile and one-eighth should be fine for her, the way she's been training."

Edgar Prado will be aboard Meridiana for the first time on Thursday.

Meridiana's competition consists of several minor stakes winners, including Shot Gun Favorite, Twilights Prayer, Perfect Energy, and Celestialbutterfly, who will be making her first start in nearly four years. The field also includes the graded stakes-placed , Dyna Flyer, Goosey Gander, and She's Vested. Doc's Doll will run only if the race comes off the grass.

Twilights Prayer is a six-time winner on turf, and will be making her first start for trainer Peter Walder, who is off to a red-hot start at the meet. A daughter of Allen's Prospect, Twilights Prayer won a restricted New Jersey-bred stakes last summer and was fifth behind Volga and Something Ventured in the Grade 3 Matchmaker in her next start.

Cocktailsanddreams finished third in the Matchmaker and more recently ran third, beaten only three lengths, in Calder's Auld Lang Syne Stakes in her 2003 finale.