10/06/2004 12:00AM

Lentil has tiny edge in big field

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Alphabet Soup won the Breeders' Cup Classic at age 5. So did Black Tie Affair. Perhaps that explains why Lentil, a daughter of Alphabet Soup out of a Black Tie Affair mare, has gotten so good in this, her 5-year-old year.

Lentil's efforts in her last two races - as well as the lack of other speed in the race - make her the one to catch and beat in Friday's $60,000 Gaviola Stakes at Belmont Park. The one-mile Gaviola, for fillies and mares who have not won a stakes race in 2003-04, drew 13, though only 12 will be permitted to run.

would not be eligible for this race if Personal Legend had not run her down in the final strides of the De La Rose Handicap at Saratoga Aug. 11. Lentil came back to win a second-level allowance race in gate-to-wire fashion here on Sept. 12.

"If you can keep them sound this long they sometimes run their best races later on in life," said Roy Lerman, owner and trainer of Lentil. "I'd be surprised if she didn't run her race whether she wins or loses."

Though the Gaviola drew a large field, many are late-running types. The wildcard in the race may be , who makes her first start on turf in nearly three years. Pocus Hocus is winless in three turf starts, and did not show the speed on that surface she has shown in her recent dirt starts. Last out, Pocus Hocus set the early pace in the Grade 1 Ruffian before holding second, 11 1/4 lengths behind Sightseek.

The problem for those who want to back Lentil is the price. She was 52-1 in the De La Rose and 11-1 when she won Sept. 12. She will be much shorter on Friday.

If Lentil falters, the race is wide open. drops in class after running in a pair of Grade 3 events out of town. Noisette could apply some early pressure to Lentil.

has only one win in her last 16 starts but finished just a neck behind Lentil in the De La Rose. Trainer Shug McGaughey said he ran Vespers back too quickly when she finished fifth last out in a classified allowance at Saratoga Aug. 27.

won a second-level allowance race going a mile here exactly one year ago. After a disappointing spring and summer, Bijou has shown improvement of late and is a live longshot.