12/05/2005 1:00AM

Coyote Lakes tests marathon runners

Navesink River (4) wins the 1 1/2-mile Pan American on the Gulfstream turf, showing his ability to go long.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - The Gallant Fox Handicap, run at 1 5/8 miles at the end of the month, is this circuit's version of the New York City Marathon. To find out who has the stamina to go that far, Aqueduct will first run the $65,000 Coyote Lakes Handicap on Wednesday, also run at 1 5/8 miles.

In his day, Coyote Lakes was certainly a marathon runner, having taken two versions of the Gallant Fox and just missing a third. It took four days for the racing office to get enough entries to fill the Coyote Lakes, but seven hardy souls did pass through the entry box for Wednesday's co-feature. The Coyote Lakes shares billing on the card with the $65,000 Fly So Free Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs.

Salic Law looked as though he could be the controlling speed in the Coyote Lakes, but his trainer, Tom Albertrani, said Monday that he is likely to scratch his horse from the race. Salic Law has not been out since July 16, and Albertrani was hoping to get one more work in him on Sunday for this. Snow postponed those plans.

If Salic Law withdraws, the pace could be set by a number of horses including Loving, Navesink River, or Ed Miracle. Ed Miracle is entered in a shorter optional claiming race for Thursday. Loving actually won the 2003 Gallant Fox, but has not won on dirt in 14 months.

Navesink River is a graded stakes winner at 1 1/2 miles on turf, and has won on the dirt at nine furlongs. His last try on dirt was a second-place finish to Trapped Again in the Kelso Handicap two starts back at Delaware Park. His connections hope the distance of Wednesday's race will negate Navesink River's apparent preference for the turf.

"That's his forte," said Seth Benzel, the assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "Throughout his career he's shown the ability to go those long distances, it suits his style."

Bruce Levine trained Coyote Lakes, so it would be only fitting if he won this race with Potri Catcho, a 7-year-old Argentine-bred gelding who won an 11-furlong race at Fairplex two starts back. In his New York debut, Potri Cacho was never in contention finishing a well-beaten fifth.

Lilah not done yet

Lilah, the upset winner of Saturday's Garland of Roses Handicap, will get an opportunity to run a couple of more times before she is bred to Speightstown early next year.

Lilah, an 8-year-old daughter of Defrere, is expected to ship to trainer Allen Jerkens in south Florida on Thursday and will likely be pointed to a couple of races at Gulfstream Park that include the First Lady Handicap on Jan. 21 and the Hurricane Bertie Handicap on Feb. 18. Both are Grade 3 events that carry purses of $100,000. Lilah won the Hurricane Bertie last year for her only graded stakes victory. Lilah has run four times at each of the past three Gulfstream meets. She is 5 for 12 at Gulfstream.

"I talked to Allen after the race, and we feel we could run her right through February down in Florida," said part-owner Roddy Valente, who, along with Barry Ostrager claimed Lilah for $100,000. "If you look at her numbers, she seems to do her best running down in south Florida. So, we'll take a couple of more shots with her before we breed her."

Lilah earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 for her Garland of Roses victory. She now has a record of 13-9-3 from 38 starts and has earned $499,248.

Harlington impressive in return

It appears owner Eugene Melnyk and trainer Todd Pletcher may have more than just Flower Alley to run in the major races in the handicap division next year. Harlington, a one-time Kentucky Derby prospect, returned from a long layoff Sunday with a solid five-length second-level allowance win on the inner track.

Harlington, a $2.8 million son of Unbridled out of the champion mare Serena's Song, was making his first start since finishing sixth as the favorite in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in February. He came out of that race with a wrenched ankle.

Sunday, Harlington overcame a wide trip with a strong stretch to run, to cover 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.10 with Mike Luzzi riding. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92. Harlington, who has now won 3 of 4 starts, will likely head to Florida to compete in the early-season stakes races at Gulfstream Park such as the Hal's Hope on Jan. 7.

"It was a very impressive race," said Seth Benzel, Pletcher's New York assistant. "He did everything the way we would have liked. I conveyed to Todd the horse galloped out very strong, and Mike said he was very impressed. I imagine we'll take him to Palm Meadows, as much as I'd like to keep him here this winter."

Spanish Mission also headed to Florida

Spanish Mission, who won the restricted Go for Gin Stakes on Sunday, was loaded on a van Monday morning along with four other Shug McGaughey-trained horses headed to south Florida.

Spanish Mission, a son of Coronado's Quest, wore down a stubborn Gold and Roses to win the Go for Gin, restricted to 3-year-olds who had never won a stakes event. In his two most recent starts, Spanish Mission finished last in the Discovery Handicap on dirt and third in the restricted Three Coins Up on the grass.

"He ran a great race," said assistant trainer Buzz Tenney. "He sat behind horses pretty comfortably. I think now Shug's figured out how he needs to be ridden. He's a free-running horse. He doesn't want you fooling with him too much, which is what happened in the Discovery."

Though McGaughey usually leaves little behind for the winter, he still has several horses to run over the inner track before the year ends. Philanthropist, a winner of two consecutive allowance races, is being pointed to Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Queens County Handicap. Strategy, winner of the Real Prize Stakes on Nov. 27, is being pointed to the $75,000 Ladies Handicap here on Dec. 17.