01/09/2004 12:00AM

First Lady rematch

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Harmony Lodge (above) and House Party both come into The First Lady off a three-month break.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - One is speedy, and the other is a closer.

One is trained by someone on a fast track to the Hall of Fame. The other is trained by someone who has been in the Hall for nearly 30 years.

Beyond those differences, , who will clash as the favorites in the $100,000 The First Lady Handicap at Gulfstream Park, are very similar. Both are classy and consistent sprinters who have captured Grade 1 events; both are mainstays of the Florida-New York circuit; and both could surpass the $1 million earnings mark if they produce this year like they did last year.

That first step into the new year begins in The First Lady, a Grade 3, six-furlong race that highlights an 11-race Sunday card at Gulfstream. All things being equal, a slight edge might rest with Harmony Lodge, primarily because of her superior turn of foot. Moreover, Gulfstream proved a successful launching pad last year for Harmony Lodge, a 6-year-old mare owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk. Back-to-back victories in the The First Lady and the Shirley Jones catapulted her to what was easily the best year of her career.

"She seems to do well at Gulfstream," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "She got off to a great start here last year, and hopefully she can maintain that form heading into this season."

House Party, a 4-year-old filly owned by Joseph Shields and trained by longtime Hall member Allen Jerkens, has been sharp in her training at Gulfstream, having posted several strong works in recent weeks.

House Party and Harmony Lodge are both returning from a three-month layoff, having last raced at Belmont in October in the Gallant Bloom, a race in which Harmony Lodge, the 2-1 second choice, gamely held off House Party, the odds-on favorite.

If neither horse runs to par Sunday, then Double Scoop is the top upset threat among the other nine scheduled starters, having posted two powerful sprint wins at the Churchill Downs fall meet.

"This is a big step up, but she's doing just super," said Jack Bohannan, assistant to trainer Rusty Arnold. "Once we decided to keep her at one turn, she's really come around."

Fringe contenders include Holy Bubbette, a rapid gray making her first start for trainer David Fawkes, and Mayo on the Side, who turns back in distance following a runner-up finish in the Falls City Handicap.

First post Sunday is 1 p.m.