05/05/2003 11:00PM

Ema Bovary lives up to her billing

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AUBURN, Wash. - Ema Bovary was as good as advertised in Sunday's Hastings Park Handicap at Emerald Downs, and that's saying a lot.

Trainers Larry and Sharon Ross were sky high on the Chilean-bred 4-year-old before the race, but even they had to be impressed by the ease with which she overcame a slow start to win by 2 1/4 lengths over the pacemaker Whatdidshesay in 1:14.40 for 6 1/2 furlongs.

"I thought we were going to be on the lead, but she got out of the gate so slow," said rider Roberto Gonzalez, who flew up from Bay Meadows to ride.

"Even so, I never really had to ask her. She caught the leader on the turn, and once she turned the corner for home she was just cruising. I'll follow this horse anywhere."

It wasn't the first time Ema Bovary had broken slowly, nor was it the worst time. She lost perhaps four lengths at the break Sunday, but when she made her North American debut in the six-furlong Richmond Handicap at Golden Gate in February, she wheeled at the start to spot her opponents more than 20 lengths.

"When I saw her do that I just left the television monitor and went to get something to eat," recalled Rick Beal, who with partner Lana Ramsey purchased Ema Bovary for $60,000 late last year.

"Then somebody said, 'Hey, Rick, you better come back and see this.' "

Ema Bovary ended up getting beat only 5 1/4 lengths by Lacie Girl, who was winning for the sixth time in seven starts. Next time out she beat Lacie Girl by a nose in the six-furlong Soviet Problem Handicap at Golden Gate in March, and Sunday she seemed to raise her game to yet another level. What can she do for an encore?

"There is just no telling what she might become," trainer Larry Ross said. "She has incredible talent, and we think she can carry her speed up to a mile. After that, we're cautiously optimistic.

"The thing to remember is that she was born in October, so she is really only a 3-year-old racing against older gals. If she is this good at 3, just think what she might be like as a 5-year-old."

Rival trainer Dan Markle would rather not. Markle saw his Whatdidshesay run the race of her career in the Hastings Park, only to be forced to settle for second.

"I wish they'd left her in Chile," Markle said.

Unyielding fast early and late

Like Ema Bovary, Unyielding did something in Saturday's six-furlong Auburn Stakes for 3-year-olds you don't see very often. Unyielding, a Washington-bred son of Detox, dueled with three others through an opening quarter-mile in 21.20 seconds, put away those rivals through a half-mile in 43.40, and still had enough left to repel the late move of Knightsbridge Road to prevail by 3 1/4 lengths in 1:08.40.

"I knew he was dead fit and he broke sharply, so we just took it to them," said rider Gary Baze, who was notching his 16th Emerald stakes win to go with the 100 he earned at Longacres.

Unyielding had been racing at Turf Paradise, where he won four of five starts, including a pair of stakes races, for owners Les Stehr and Jim Hill, who purchased the gelding privately last fall. Hill trained Unyielding in Phoenix, but he turned him over to Connie Bouslaugh for his local campaign. Unyielding is Bouslaugh's first stakes winner and the first stakes winner for his sire, a son of Dr. Blum who is owned by trainer Don Munger.

"He really should have won all of his races at Turf Paradise," Hill said. "He is quite a nice horse. He's versatile and competitive, he has no bad habits, and he is already proven at a mile. We ought to have a lot of fun with him."

* Jockey Jose Rivera Jr., who had hoped to ride at the current Emerald meet, reported that he will be out of action until September as a result of injuries suffered in a spill during training hours at Portland Meadows March 30. Rivera said he suffered two broken ribs and a severely fractured ankle.

* The Washington Horse Racing Commission will meet Thursday, May 8, at 10:30 a.m. in the city council chambers at Auburn City Hall. Among the items on a lengthy agenda is a request from would-be operator Eric Nelson to cancel this year's scheduled meet at Playfair while continuing to conduct simulcast operations.

* Emerald will switch to a special 3 p.m. first post Thursday, May 15, to participate in "Hooky Day," a radio promotion encouraging Seattleites to take the afternoon off.