12/03/2005 1:00AM

Lilah proves she can still fire at 8

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Though she is nearing her ninth birthday, Lilah showed she still has a little spring in her step, as she rallied to outfinish Bank Audit and hold off longshot Secret Forest and win the $84,300 Garland of Roses Handicap by a head at Aqueduct.

Secret Forest, who was forced to alter course in the stretch, rallied for second, 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Bank Audit, the even-money favorite.

It was the 13th victory in 38 career starts for Lilah, an 8-year-old daughter of Defrere who earlier this year won the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie Handicap at Gulfstream Park. It was also Lilah's first victory since being claimed for $100,000 in June by Barry Ostrager and Roddy Valente.

Interestingly, Ostrager and Valente gave Lilah back to trainer Allen Jerkens - from whom they claimed her - after trainer Bruce Levine said he could not do any good with her.

Lilah had lost three straight for Jerkens entering Saturday's race.

Under Channing Hill, Lilah settled into sixth position down the backside while Megascape and High Peaks dueled through fractions of 22.48 seconds and 46.01. Lilah launched her bid leaving the three-eighths pole and was moving with Bank Audit into the stretch. After getting past Bank Audit, Lilah had just enough to hold off Secret Forest, a 45-1 longshot.

Lilah covered the six furlongs in 1:11.13 and returned $21.80 to win.

"When I went by Bank Audit, I knew I had a good shot," said Hill, who replaced named rider Shanon Uske. "She ran a heck of a race today. Bank Audit really dug in game. Lilah owed me that race. I rode her in the Genuine Risk, and she didn't fire at all."

Norberto Arroyo Jr., the jockey of Bank Audit, said his filly "was getting out on the turn, preventing him from trying to rally along the rail."

Travelator, who won last year's Garland of Roses, stumbled at the start and unseated jockey Aaron Gryder. Neither the horse nor the rider were reported to have been injured.