09/29/2001 12:00AM

Late Lailani surge wins Flower Bowl


ELMONT, N.Y. - European sensation Lailani proved she is as capable on this side of the Atlantic as she is on her home turf by winning Saturday's $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park.

Lailani, the slight second choice, ran down even-money favorite England's Legend in deep stretch for a three-quarter-length win. It was another three-quarters of a length back to Starine, the third choice, in third.

The Grade 1 Flower Bowl was Lailani's seventh consecutive win and her final prep before the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park on Oct. 27. This year, Lailani, a 3-year-old filly, also won the Irish Oaks and the Nassau Stakes, a pair of Group 1 races in Europe.

Lailani, with Jerry Bailey aboard, raced in third, about five lengths behind pacesetter England's Legend, down the backstretch of the 1 1/4-mile Flower Bowl. England's Legend wasn't under any pressure as she clicked off the first quarter in 24.74 seconds and then stepped it up for a second quarter in 23.42.

After England's Legend produced fractions of 1:12.35 and 1:36.71, Lailani was on the move from the inside on the far turn. As the field straightened for home, Bailey slipped her to the outside and went after England's Legend, who didn't give in easily.

"I didn't know what to expect," said Bailey, who was riding Lailani for the first time, "but she took everything very well for her first experience. She was very professional and that's important with fillies because they can get nervous and washy. She accelerated pretty quickly on the turn and I give her a lot of credit for running down England's Legend."

The final time was 2:01.88 over a good course.

Chaste finished fourth, 3 1/4 lengths behind Starine, and was followed under the wire by Babae and Tweedside.

Edward Dunlop trains Lailani ($6.90) for Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum. Dunlop was not in New York to saddle the filly, but said earlier in the week that Lailani would remain at Belmont Park and train up to the Breeders' Cup.

Dunlop's assistant William Knight, who saddled Lailani, said, "She didn't have the greatest of trips coming over here. She showed her true colors and that she's a tough, tough filly. The next few weeks will be very easy. We don't have to do much to keep her fit."

Corey Nakatani, aboard England's Legend, said his filly was a bit keen in the early going.

"I would have liked for her to settle a little more," Nakatani said.

Christophe Clement, England's Legend's trainer, said his filly would return in the Breeders' Cup, where she must be supplemented for $90,000.