02/10/2004 12:00AM

Jolie Rafaela won't be 10-1 again


ARCADIA, Calif. - Jolie Rafaela exceeded expectations in her North American debut on Jan. 11 when she finished third in a turf sprint. An import from Brazil, was 10-1 in that second-condition allowance, finished well, and was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by Any for Love, who returned to win her next start.

In Thursday's seventh-race feature at Santa Anita, Jolie Rafaela's odds will be lower, while the distance and the expectations are greater. Nine fillies and mares race one mile on turf in the two-other-than allowance, a race in which the three principals - Jolie Rafaela, Blond Dancer, and Shezsospiritual - are stretching out from a sprint.

finished third while racing above her conditions Jan. 23 in a three-other-than allowance, and Shezsospiritual won a first-condition allowance by more than five lengths. Thursday, the Neil Drysdale-trained Blond Dancer drops in class while the Vladimir Cerin-trained Shezsospiritual moves up in class. Yet the horse to beat is returning at the same class and figures to improve second time in the U.S.

Bobby Frankel trains Jolie Rafaela, who won 2 of 8 starts in Brazil, including a Group 3, while also running third in a Group 1. In her first U.S. start, she finished steadily in a strong race that was validated when winner Any for Love returned 12 days later to win a better race. Most Frankel-trained imports improve with racing, and the extra distance works in favor of Jolie Rafaela. She will have to improve in order to win, because on form comparison, Blond Dancer is the most likely winner.

Blond Dancer was returning from a three-month layoff and racing in California for the first time when she finished only a half-length behind Any for Love in a three-other-than allowance on Jan. 23. All things being equal, her half-length deficit to Any for Love suggests that Blond Dancer is better than Jolie Rafaela, who finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Any for Love.

All things rarely are equal, however. Jolie Rafaela is almost certain to improve in what will be her 10th career start, while Blond Dancer was racing for the 19th time when she recorded a career-best Beyer Speed Figure last out. Bettors confident that Blond Dancer will reproduce the effort while dropping one class level will be suitably rewarded.

Shezsospiritual crushed one-other-than foes in a downhill sprint, but is less effective around two turns. The other entrants include Keys to the Heart, Alozaina, Emsay, Acure for Geri, Voodoo's Sister, and Runway Lollipop.