03/19/2004 12:00AM

Last out has Ocean Silk set for the Orchid

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Patrick Byrne was the first to concede would need a race going into The Very One Handicap on Feb. 28, and that he was using the race as a prep for Ocean Silk's main goal this winter, Sunday's $200,000 Orchid Handicap.

Although she had been idle for four months, Ocean Silk finished second to the favored Binya in the 1 3/8-mile The Very One. Off that performance, she figures to be tough to beat when stretching out an additional furlong in the Grade 2 Orchid.

Anyone who doubts Ocean Silk's credentials need look no further than her performance last summer in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, where she finished a length behind Islington, the eventual Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf champion and Eclipse Award winner. Owned by Robert Sangster, Ocean Silk finished second behind Spice Island in Keeneland's Dowager Stakes in her only U.S. appearance before The Very One.

"I gave her some time on the farm after her race in Kentucky, and I knew she wouldn't quite be 100-percent fit going into The Very One," said Byrne. "But I was very happy with her race, and it should set her up perfectly for Sunday. I think she could have Breeders' Cup potential but at the moment she's still eligible for a second-level allowance race and is going to have to improve."

Despite handling Ocean Silk with ease in the Dowager and winning the Grade 2 Long Island Handicap four weeks later, Spice Island will likely be the second choice in Sunday's rematch. That's because she has not started since taking a nasty spill when clipping heels around the second turn of Calder's La Prevoyante Handicap in her 2003 finale.

"I gave her some time off to get over the fall, and I'm just hoping I can have her tight enough to go a mile and one-half off the layoff, which won't be easy," said trainer John Pregman Jr.

Trainer Christophe Clement is high on the chances of Meridiana. A Group 1 winner in Italy last spring, Meridiana needed five starts before finally posting her first U.S. victory here earlier this month in an optional claiming and allowance race.

"I liked her last race very much and love the way she's training into the Orchid," said Clement. "And the distance should be no problem for her."

Completing the lineup are Boana, Gal O Gal, San Dare, Savedbythelight, Moscow Burning, Miss Hellie, and Lost Appeal.