06/04/2004 11:00PM

Lovely Rafaela wins Honeymoon

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The race strategy for Lovely Rafaela in Saturday's $184,925 at Hollywood Park was for jockey Victor Espinoza to use a come-from-behind style.

Nearly the exact opposite occurred but the end result was what Espinoza and trainer Paulo Lobo hoped to see in the Grade 2 race over 1 1-8 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies.

Lovely Rafaela stalked pacesetter Western Hemisphere through a slow pace, and held off a late comeback from that filly to score an upset by a nose.

Sagitta Ra finished third in the field of eight, with even-money favorite Ticker Tape fourth.

Lovely Rafaela ($34.40) was timed in 1:49.96. After the race, Hollywood Park officials invited both Lovely Rafaela and Western Hemisphere to the $750,000 American Oaks over 1 1-4 miles on turf on July 3.

Owned by TNT Stud, Lovely Rafaela has won 2 of 6 starts and $160,815.

Espinoza said he had little choice but to follow Western Hemisphere after Lovely Rafaela broke well. Western Hemisphere set an early pace of 25.77 and 50.39 seconds, leading by as many as 4 1-2 lengths.

On the final turn, Western Hemisphere's advantage was reduced by a half-length when Lovely Rafaela moved closer. Western Hemisphere had a head advantage over Lovely Rafaela at the eighth pole, lost the lead, put her head back in front briefly but lost the photo finish.

"She should have opened up," trainer Bob Baffert said.

Espinoza was surprised to see Lovely Rafaela fight through the stretch.

"At the quarter-pole, they were going to slow. I thought, I better go," Espinoza said. "In the last eighth, I thought I was in front but she just kept coming back. Twenty yards out, I had to handride her. They were so close."