03/23/2002 12:00AM

Sarah Lane's swan song

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NEW ORLEANS - It's only fitting that Sarah Lane's Oates's racing career should come to an end Monday in the Red Camelia Handicap.

Sarah Lane's Oates won the Red Camelia in 1998, won again the next year, and made it a hat trick in 2000. Last year, she lost by a nose, and Monday she seeks revenge in a race that may as well have her name on it.

Monday's 10-race program also brings to a close the Fair Grounds meet that began on Thanksgiving.

The day will be Sarah Lane's Oates last trip to the post, as owner Glen Warren and trainer Andy Leggio have decided that enough is enough After racing in seven calendar years and making 71 starts, Sarah Lane's Oates will be retired. Later this spring, she will be bred to Point Given and begin passing on genes that have proven as powerful as they are unlikely.

Sarah Lane's Oates is a Louisiana-bred by Sunshine Forever out of the Mogambo mare Glitzi BJ. It is not a pedigree that's supposed to produce an exceptional horse, but it did. Sarah Lane's Oates struggled early in her career when she raced on dirt, and for a brief spell she became a maiden claimer. Then Leggio switched her to grass, and her career took off. On grass, Sarah Lane's Oates has won 20 races in 61 starts, earning more than $855,000 without ever racing for the sort of purses that swell bankrolls.

Leggio said Sarah Lane's Oates has been a remarkably sound horse throughout her career, and that she has never had any problems with her legs. But even Leggio will admit that Sarah Lane's Oates has lost a step or two from her best days. Does that mean she's vulnerable in the $100,000 Red Camelia, a one-mile race that drew a field of 14? Perhaps not.

An eighth- and a sixth-place finish on turf late last year cast Sarah Lane's Oates's future in doubt, but the mare rebounded with a solid fifth-place finish when she faced open company in the Sixty Sails Handicap here in January. A similar performance would earn Sarah Lane's Oates her fourth Red Camelia trophy.

The main threats are Leslie's Love, Mysia Jo, and Baybee's Prospect. Leslie's Love has speed and likes the Fair Grounds turf, but is unproven around two turns. Mysia Jo has faced males and open company in her last several starts. Baybee's Prospect gives up seasoning to her rivals, but is unbeaten in two career starts.