02/20/2004 12:00AM

Not a favorable spot for Ema Bovary

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ARCADIA, Calif. - When Ema Bovary starts Sunday as the highweight in the Grade 3 Las Flores Handicap at Santa Anita, there are reasons why, after seven straight wins, her bubble may finally burst. It is not a reckless opinion.

Seven fillies and mares entered the $100,000 Las Flores, a six-furlong race in which faces major obstacles. They include a 121-pound weight assignment, which is at least four pounds more than her rivals; an off-the-pace running style that has led to a series of troubled trips; and the strongest competition Ema Bovary has faced in eight North American starts.

The Las Flores is the first graded stakes for Ema Bovary since she arrived from Chile. Her rivals include established stakes winners Buffythecenterfold and Icantgoforthat; Channing Way, who is 12 for 20; allowance-caliber fillies Honest Answer and Annabelly; comebacker Coconut Girl; and South American import Sarasota.

The class of the field is , who earned the highest Beyer Figure of her career (102) last month when she finished second in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap. Buffythecenterfold has won five races and $500,975 from 14 starts and is the likely favorite in the Las Flores. Two sharp workouts since her last race suggest she has held her form, and her front-running style will allow her to be positioned in front of the highweight.

Handicappers will have to determine which is more significant: a series of graded-stakes placings by Buffythecenterfold or a series of victories in non-graded stakes by Ema Bovary.

Trained by Larry Ross, Ema Bovary will be racing in Southern California for the second time. She finished second by a nose in a minor stakes Dec. 31 but was placed first via disqualification. Ema Bovary, who has won 10 of 15 and earned $233,562, overcame trouble Jan. 24 to win her seventh straight in a minor stakes at Golden Gate. While her closing style lends itself to tough trips, bettors who back Ema Bovary on Sunday will get a mare who knows how to win. But can she overcome a disadvantage in pace, class, and weight?

Pacesetter Icantgoforthat, a California-bred with six wins from 26 starts, will try to steal the race. Icantgoforthat finished sixth last out in a restricted stakes, but her front-running turf win one start back in the Grade 3 Monrovia Handicap puts her in the thick of the action. Channing Way missed by 1 1/2 lengths in a low-rated Sunshine Millions race. Coconut Girl gets in light and runs well fresh.