01/22/2004 12:00AM

Ema Bovary opts to stay home

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ALBANY, Calif. - Trainer Larry Ross thought the competition in Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Santa Monica at Santa Anita was too tough, so he will run instead his star mare Ema Bovary in Saturday's $60,000-added Orinda Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

Ross admitted it was initially a tough decision, but after Island Fashion scratched from last Sunday's El Encino to await the Santa Monica, "it made that race less attractive," he said. "I was also a little surprised at the weights. Sightseek got 122, Island Fashion 120, Got Koko 119, and Ema 117."

Sightseek and Got Koko will make their first start since the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Island Fashion got a 109 Beyer for her victory in the Grade 1 La Brea at the Santa Monica distance of seven furlongs.

The fact that Sightseek and Got Koko haven't run since the Breeders' Cup and that both might be better around two turns were reasons Ross was considering the Santa Monica, but he said, "They've both got good records and are capable at seven furlongs."

Ema Bovary has won six straight races, including five stakes, the last on a disqualification. She will carry 123 pounds Saturday, spotting each rival at least seven pounds.

Ross is still considering taking Ema Bovary to Santa Anita for the Las Flores, a Grade 3, $125,000 stakes at six furlongs on Feb. 22.

"If you want to aim for something, you want something you can feel good about and have a chance to win," Ross said. "I think she could have won the Santa Monica, but it works out better this way."

Dancewithavixen, winner of 8 of 11 starts last year with a pair of seconds, gets in at 116 in her first start since winning the $125,000 Ballerina Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hastings on Oct. 11. She has won stakes sprinting and routing and could be Ema Bovary's toughest rival.

"She's very nice," trainer Gordon Wells said. "I've only had her two months, but I saw her run last year and she impressed me.

"She looks like a gelding. She's big and strong. She's got that competitive inner fire. She's all horse and wants to win."

* Lacie Girl, who defeated Ema Bovary in her North American debut and had four wins and six seconds in stakes last year, has been retired and will be bred to Forestry.