03/21/2003 1:00AM

'Ema' due to deliver big effort


ALBANY, Calif. - For jockey Roberto Gonzalez, it was love at first sight.

"I've liked her since the first time I saw her on the track," he said. "I went to [trainer] Larry Ross and said she had a beautiful way of going. I told him, 'If you don't have a rider, call me.'

"The next time on the track, she galloped beside me. I didn't know anything about her. I just loved the way she went on the track."

The object of Gonzalez's affection is Chilean-bred Ema Bovary, who makes her second U.S. start in Sunday's $60,000-added Soviet Problem Handicap at Golden Gate Fields.

She meets four rivals in the six-furlong stakes, including the top three finishers - Lacie Girl, Onslaught, and Fertile - from her U.S. debut.

Ema Bovary's trip in the Richmond Handicap on Feb. 16 was adventurous, to say the least. Breaking from the rail, she wheeled left coming out of the gate. It was all Gonzalez could do to stay aboard and keep her from crashing through the temporary rail.

Ema Bovary trailed pacesetting Onslaught by 19 lengths after the opening quarter. She finished last, beaten 5 1/4 lengths, but she ran her final half-mile in 44.61 seconds and last quarter in 22.74.

The numbers are impressive, but what happened on the track near the wire was even more amazing to Gonzalez.

"About 50 yards from the finish line, I gave her a little tap just to see what she'd do," he said. "She really took off and about 25 yards past the wire, I had to keep her from clipping heels with some of the others."

She has been schooled in the gate since and broken well. She will break from post 3 Sunday.

"If she gets a good break, it won't surprise me if she runs a big race," Gonzalez said.

As impressive as Ema Bovary was in her U.S. debut, she will have her work cut out for her Sunday.

Lacie Girl, unbeaten in northern California and the odds-on winner of the Orinda and Richmond handicaps, remains the one to beat. She sat off Onslaught's swift pace last time and edged her by a head after beating her by 2 1/4 lengths in the Orinda.

Onslaught, who loves the surface here, has five seconds - four in photos - and a win in her past six northern California stakes tries.

Fertile, a stakes winner at 2 and 3, was third behind Lacie Girl and Onslaught in an improved try in the Richmond.

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