06/03/2005 12:00AM

Slow workout may hurt Berbatim


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - and Three Degrees are so evenly matched it is almost foolish to speculate which one is better. Yet when they meet for the first time Sunday as co-favorites in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap at Hollywood Park, a foiled workout makes one of them vulnerable.

Thirteen entered the $175,000-added Honeymoon, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies leading to the Grade 1 American Oaks on July 3. Following a big win in the Grade 3 Providencia, Berbatim starts as the 119-pound topweight. Unfortunately, her recent training has not gone to plan. On May 28, Berbatim worked a mile in 1:45.80.

"I am concerned she isn't quite where she was into the Providencia," trainer Richard Mandella said. "The mile work was kind of messed up; she went too slow."

Because her last race was two months ago, the work was key to her fitness, and Mandella had to wheel Berbatim back four days later for a half-mile work in 48.80 seconds. The preparation is not ideal.

Nevertheless, Berbatim is qualified to win. A small filly purchased last fall by Gary and Wendy Broad, Berbatim needed only two starts in California to emerge as one of the circuit's top grass fillies. She followed a third-place sprint finish with a 2 1/2-length win April 9.

Mandella said Berbatim skipped the Grade 3 Senorita on May 8 because "we didn't want to have the lemon come up dry going into the big race," referring to the American Oaks. He was asked if Sunday's race was a mere prep.

"I wouldn't say that," he said. "She's well-meant. I just wish I could go back and do that mile work again."

The imperfect workout by Berbatim tilts the advantage to 117-pound second highweight Three Degrees. After racing twice last year in England, Three Degrees won her first two U.S. starts for trainer Paddy Gallagher, but it was her runner-up finish in the one-mile Senorita that established her as a force.

Wide throughout, and seven lengths behind a walking pace, Three Degrees smoked the final quarter in 22 seconds and fell only a nose short of wire-to-wire winner Virden.

"She finished like she could keep going," Gallagher said. "A mile and an eighth shouldn't be too much for her."

Gary Stevens takes over for Alex Solis, who rides Berbatim.