12/23/2001 1:00AM

Lakenheath gets spot at last


NEW ORLEANS - Lakenheath's connections finally found a spot for the filly to race.

Lakenheath, a 3-year-old filly bred and owned by Jim Tafel and trained by Gene Cilio, has not started since she finished a closing third in the Grade 3 Arlington Matron on Oct. 6. She has been working steadily and has been ready to run for weeks. The problem was finding her a suitable race.

With her stablemate Scoop penciled in for Fair Grounds's upcoming filly-and-mare route stakes, the Truly Bound, Lakenheath was all dressed up with no place to go - until Thursday.

Thanks to a $75,000 claiming option, a third-level allowance race at one mile attracted sufficient entries to make it onto the Fair Grounds racing program, and Lakenheath will finally head out of Cilio's barn and onto the racetrack Thursday afternoon.

With a Grade 3 win and nearly $200,000 in earnings, Lakenheath is by far the most accomplished filly among nine entered, and she outclasses her opponents.

Everything would be peachy but for one negative factor - distance. A one-mile race at Fair Grounds ends at the sixteenth pole, and Lakenheath is a stretch runner better suited to longer distances.

When she won the Grade 3 Silverbulletday here last season, which was run at 1 1/16 miles, she needed every bit of the long Fair Grounds stretch to get up. In the one-mile Tiffany Lass, Lakenheath raced far behind at the stretch call and her rally was good enough only for a fourth-place finish.

In the Tiffany Lass, the pace was slow, and in Thursday's race there are at least two fillies, Victory at Sea and Cindy's Hobby, who should ensure the honest pace Lakenheath needs.

If the speed starts coming back turning for home, jockey Corey Lanerie should have enough time to run down the leaders and the stalkers with the closing Lakenheath.

But seasoned handicappers know that the presence of just two pace horses does not ensure a speed duel. Moreover, Cindy's Hobby forms part of an entry along with Bold Diva, and since owner-trainer Louie Roussel has named jockey Eddie Martin to ride both fillies, it's possible Cindy's Hobby won't even start in the race.

That would leave Victory at Sea in position to stage a theft from post 1. Victory at Sea, who is trained by Elliott Walden, has never run in a two-turn dirt race, but in her last start she won a one-turn mile allowance race at Arlington by almost three lengths.

Victory at Sea has not raced in four months, but has posted four straight bullet works, including two at Fair Grounds, for her return.

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