05/31/2004 12:00AM

Noches de Rosa holds on

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Noches de Rosa was expected to be the pacesetter among the four fillies and mares in Monday's $324,250 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park. But the prerace strategy did not include losing the lead on the backstretch and having to fight back through the stretch to hold off the 3-5 favorite Megahertz.

Noches de Rosa ($8.60) scored the most important win of her U.S. career in the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap. Ridden by Mike Smith, Noches de Rosa finished 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:48.34.

Trained by Richard Mandella for Gerald Ford, Noches de Rosa led early but was engaged by Quero Quero on the backstretch. The two set early fractions of 25.40 and 49.57 seconds.

At the end of the backstretch, Smith guided Noches de Rosa outside of Quero Quero and they were quickly joined by Dimitrova, creating a line of three on the final turn. At that point, Megahertz, who had trailed by 15 lengths with three furlongs left, was still several lengths off the pace.

"We planned to open up a length or two and slow it down," Mandella said. "I was a little concerned but I thought Mike was taking his time."

In early stretch, Quero Quero led by a head, but was overtaken by Noches de Rosa inside the final furlong. Noches de Rosa won by a length over Megahertz.

Megahertz finished a head in front of Quero Quero, who was two lengths clear of Dimitrova. Dimitrova seemed well placed on the final turn but could not sustain the bid.

The result was a reversal of the top two spots in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita on April 17 when Megahertz rallied to catch Noches de Rosa.

"Her last race was dynamite," Mandella said of Noches de Rosa. "But the other filly outfinished her."

Bred in Chile, Noches de Rosa has won 7 of 23 starts and $520,873. Since arriving in the United States in early 2002, Noches de Rosa has won 3 of 11 starts. The Gamely was her first stakes win since the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap at Santa Anita in March 2003.