05/10/2003 12:00AM

'Game' closes late to win Carterista


MIAMI - The early pace battle that was expected to develop never materialized, but that didn't stop the late-running Love the Game from rallying to a one-length win over Honorable Pic in Saturday's $75,000 Carterista Handicap on the Calder turf.

Honorable Pic was expected to be tested early in the 1 1/16-mile Carterista by fellow speedsters Rakoon and Cellars Merlot. Instead, he was allowed to coast along on an easy lead through fractions of 22.68 seconds, 46.75, and 1:10.58. In the meantime, jockey Jose Ferrer settled Love the Game along the hedge and near the back of the pack.

Honorable Pic repulsed challenges from Simmer and Rakoon in early stretch, drew well clear, and appeared home free at midstretch. But a hard-charging Love the Game ran him down in the final 70 yards.

Cellars Merlot outlasted Coahoma and Tv Sports Director to finish third. They were followed by Simmer, Rakoon, Tammany Star, Broadway Snowman, Zloty, Just Listen, and Frank the Fixer.

Just Listen, the highweight under 116 pounds, was vanned off after the race.

Love the Game paid $7.20 as the favorite in a full field of 12 older horses. Final time was 1:40.55 over a firm course.

"You always have some concern about his trip with his style, but he's got a terrific turn of foot," said Henry Collazo, who trains Love the Game for the Acclaimed Racing Stable. "I don't think we've hit the top floor with him yet. I think he can go up another level."