01/05/2005 1:00AM

Lilah in for claim again


HALLANDALE BEACH - Who's going to claim a 7-year-old mare coming off a 7 1/2-month layoff from a Hall of Fame trainer like Allen Jerkens for $50,000?

That question was answered at Calder three weeks ago, when there were no takers for Lilah, who won an optional claiming race by five lengths while running a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, only 1 point shy of her career best.

The next question is, Who is willing to claim an 8-year-old mare coming off a near career-best performance from a Hall of Fame trainer like Allen Jerkens for $75,000?

The answer will come when Lilah lines up in a full field of fillies and mares in Friday's $37,000 optional claiming and allowance feature at Gulfstream Park.

scored a pair of five-length victories in higher-priced optional claiming and allowance competition here last winter but went to the sidelines after a third-place finish at Aqueduct on April 30. She returned on Dec. 16 at Calder with a new rider, Jorge Chavez, but looking like her old self, dominating a good field that included Sorbet and Usual Manner.

Lilah has banked most of her career earnings of $289,900 over the last two years. She figures to add to that total on Friday by sitting just behind what figures to be an honest pace set by Usual Manner, Mystery's Jules, and Kuanyan.

finished a well-beaten third behind Lilah in their previous encounter but returned to score an easy nine-length second-level allowance victory less than two weeks later. Kuanyan returns to allowance company after proving no match for the multiple stakes winner D'Wildcat Speed in Calder's Pocahontas Stakes on Thanksgiving Day. Mystery's Jules led throughout to win five of six starts since being claimed by trainer Scott Lake for $20,000 here in April, but she finished far back when closing out her 3-year-old campaign in the Seton Hall Stakes at The Meadowlands on Nov. 13.

will get another chance at Lilah after finishing five lengths behind her last month at Calder. The loss snapped a two-race win streak for Sorbet, who won her maiden at Gulfstream in 2004.

Trainer Mike Mitchell, who has horses stabled in south Florida for this first time, will send out Excesses as one of the key contenders in the race. A lightly raced 4-year-old, Excesses has won her last two starts on dirt, and like Lilah can take advantage of an honest pace. She came from behind to win an allowance race at Santa Anita by three-quarters of a lengths on Oct. 20.