10/01/2001 12:00AM

Weekend at Belmont: Lailani stole the show

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ELMONT, N.Y. - She was most impressive. The $750,000 Turf Classic was the nominal feature of Belmont Park's outstanding Saturday program but the most exceptional performance of the afternoon was Lailani's smashing triumph in the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational Handicap on the turf at a mile and a quarter.

England's Legend, winner of the prestigious Beverly D. Handicap at Arlington Park by almost eight lengths, has been the outstanding filly on the grass in America this season. She was favored at 11-10 in the Flower Bowl and enjoyed a fine trip, setting her own pace on the lead under Corey Nakatani, running

the quarter in 24.74 seconds, the half-mile in 48.16. She should have had a lot left after those reasonable fractions and she did, but Lailani, a 3-year-old filly by the Northern Dancer stallion Unfuwain, superbly ridden by Jerry Bailey, ran her down and prevailed by three-quarters of a length to earn the prize of $450,000. Starine, winner of the Diana Handicap at Saratoga, finished third in a field of six.

Lailani, who races for her breeder, Shiekh Maktoum al Maktoum, has won all seven of her starts this year and the Flower Bowl was her third consecutive Grade 1 victory in three different countries. She is very special and we get to see her again because she is remaining in New York to run in the Breeders'

Cup Filly and Mare Turf on Oct. 27.

"She is not the biggest horse in training but she has a lot of heart," said trainer Edward Dunlop, son of one of England's most distinguished horsemen, John Dunlop.

"She runs on any kind of ground and is effective at several distances. There was nothing much more for her in Europe except the Arc de Triomphe and that looks a bit too much for her at this time. With the Flower Bowl behind her, she won't need a lot of of training for the Breeders' Cup."

The Turf Classic field wasn't exceptional because of competing events in Los Angeles and Toronto. It did produce a deserving winner in Edmund Gann's Timboroa, who led all the way under Edgar Prado to beat the odds-on favorite, King Cugat, by three lengths, with the 7-year-old Cetawayo third.

Timboroa, a 5-year-old horse by Salse, was purchased privately in Europe last year for Gann by trainer Bobby Frankel, who is having an extraordinary season. Frankel had another major winner on the turf Sunday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting when Juddmonte Farm's Senure won the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Memorial. The two victories sent Frankel's total purses for

the year past the $10 million mark, second in the national standings behind Bob Baffert, whose horses have won more than $14 million.

Timboroa, who won the Del Mar Handicap in his previous start, usually races off the pace. But there wasn't much speed in the Turf Classic and Prado had little trouble going to the front and remaining there. Prado set a slow pace - the half-mile in 50.99 seconds - which stymied the fast-closing King Cugat.

Timboroa is not eligible to the Breeders' Cup and will probably travel to Tokyo for the Japan Cup.

But Frankel will be represented in the Breeders' Cup Turf by Senure.

Pace was a major factor in the outcome of the Turf Classic and it was also the key to the finish of the $125,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap, another highlight of Saturday's card. Dat You Miz Blue zipped a half-mile in 45, enabling the stretch-running Finder's Fee to get up by a neck under John Velazquez in the black-and-cherry colors of Ogden Phipps. A hard-hitting Storm Cat filly, Finder's Fee increased her earnings past the $700,000 mark with her Gallant Bloom victory.