03/23/2002 1:00AM

Obstacles aplenty, but 'Heart' is strong


NEW ORLEANS - Neither turf, nor distance, nor a group of males could stop the filly You'llbeinmyheart from staying unbeaten Saturday in the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap. You'llbeinmyheart came from just off the pace and put in a solid stretch run to win the Gentilly by 1 3/4 lengths.

Her obstacles were not insignificant. You'llbeinmyheart was coming off easy wins against Louisiana-bred maidens and first-level allowance horses that she badly overmatched on talent. The one-mile Gentilly was her first start around two turns and first on turf, and to win she had to beat a bulky field populated mainly by colts and geldings.

To make matters worse, You'llbeinmyheart stumbled slightly coming out of the gate, and as she ran around the first turn, You'llbeinmyheart raced in behind horses for the first time in her career. But she didn't seem to mind. Rating comfortably under jockey Larry Melancon, who picked up the mount on Saturday, You'llbeinmyheart was never far from a moderate pace, and after moving to the lead at the top of the stretch, she was never seriously threatened.

Her margin of victory was nothing like the blowouts in her first two races, but the Gentilly might have been You'llbeinmyheart's best race yet. And it had to give hope to owner Vickie Krantz and trainer Gary Palmisano that You'llbeinmyheart can successfully make the jump out of statebred and into open company, something she will probably be asked to do in her next race.

You'llbeinmyheart, who paid $6.40 to win, was timed in 1:39.83 over a firm course. She was followed home by longshots Silent Goodbye and Ruff Flight, with the favorite, Screen Idol, checking in sixth.