01/30/2007 12:00AM

No excuses this time for Naughty Rafaela


ARCADIA, Calif. - Three starts into her North American campaign, the Group 1-winning Brazilian import Naughty Rafaela already has used an array of excuses.

First, she had traffic trouble. Next time, she bounced. Then she moved too soon. One, two, three strikes and you're out.

However, Naughty Rafaela is not out. She keeps showing up, and promising more than she delivers. And though cynics have given up, Naughty Rafaela's supporters will give her one more chance Thursday in the $75,000 La Zanzara Handicap at Santa Anita.

Seven fillies and mares entered the 1 1/4-mile turf race, and if Naughty Rafaela runs as well as last time, she figures in the thick of it.

"I liked the way she ran last time," trainer Bobby Frankel said. "The time before, her head was cocked sideways, but the other day she ran true."

Naughty Rafaela was supposed to have won by now. She had a nightmare trip finishing third in her U.S. debut, finished a bad sixth one month later when she bounced, and then squandered a 1 1/2-length midstretch lead last time and finished second going 1 1/8 miles.

But she also finished nearly six lengths clear of third, and if she produces the same effort on Thursday, she might finally win. The extra furlong of the La Zanzara favors Naughty Rafaela, while the mare that beat her last time, Big Promise, is unproven beyond 1 1/8 miles.

Big Promise has won 2 of her last 3, and if her turn of foot is as effective at the longer distance Thursday, she can win again. Trained by Paddy Gallagher, Big Promise is coupled with Grat, romping winner of a $50,000 stakes last time at Turf Paradise.

Bettors willing to embrace the unknown may side with European import Solva, trained by Ben Cecil. Solva won 2 of 12 facing modest company in England, and arrived in the U.S. last fall. Cecil considered running her in a second-level allowance at one mile, then decided on the stakes.

"She wants a mile and a quarter, and this race looks like a glorified nonwinners twice-other-than," he said. "I think she's got enough foundation; it's if she's good enough."

With rain in the forecast, the La Zanzara was carded as race 2, before the pick six races. Other starters include Lasika, Arabic Dancer, and Exclusive Danielle.

In race 7, romping maiden winner Coco Belle will be favored in a six-furlong allowance for 3-year-old fillies. Trained by John Sadler, Coco Belle earned a 98 Beyer beating maidens, but the runner-up returned Saturday to finish fourth.