05/17/2002 11:00PM

Favorites both have flaws


STICKNEY, Ill. - Graded stakes experience should go a long way in an optional claimer at Hawthorne Race Coursein Monday's featured ninth race. Lakenheath won a Grade 3, Vicki Vallencourt just was third in a Grade 2, and they should be the two favorites.

Both have flaws, if handicappers are willing to sift through nine other evenly matched fillies and mares for an alternative. Lakenheath has not won a race of any kind since she took the Grade 3 Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds in March 2001. The 3-year-old Vicki Vallencourt, meanwhile, has never raced around two turns, and will face older horses for the first time.

Third in the Grade 2 Beaumont at Keeneland last month, Vicki Vallencourt also was under consideration for the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Whichever spot trainer Hugh Robertson eventually picks, Vicki Vallencourt will be given a chance to race around two turns. Vicki Vallencourt should get stamina from her sire, Regal Classic, but there's a reason Robertson has waited eight starts to test Vicki Vallencourt in a true route race.

"We're trying to find out it she can go two turns," Robertson said. "She doesn't really look like a two-turn horse, but she's a really tractable horse and will do anything you ask her. Maybe her attitude will help her."

Lakenheath's distance preference lies on the other end of the spectrum: The 1 1/16 miles of Monday's race is just starting to warm her up. Lakenheath's losing streak has mostly been a product of bad luck. Every time Lakenheath finds the right spot, she encounters bad racing luck or is off her game. Conversely, the times she has gotten a good trip and run a winning race, she has encountered a horse just a little better than she is.

Lakenheath, who's owned by Jim Tafel and trained by Gene Cilio, went off form earlier this year, but rebounded with a strong second-place finish in her last start, the Grade 3 Sixty Sails at Hawthorne.

Baby racing begins

Two-year-old racing has returned to Chicago. The season's first 2-year-old races were to be held Sunday, and Monday's fifth race is another 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race.

There are live-looking first-time starters in the race, horses like Bold America and To Be Announced, but the horse to beat clearly is Prospectors Silver, who finished third - beaten a neck for second - in a very fast maiden race at Keeneland last month.

* Jockey Randy Meier returned from a five-week, injury-induced layoff here Friday and won two races.