11/23/2004 12:00AM

Time to take stand against the favorite

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Conventional class handicapping points to Grade 1 winner Noches de Rosa as the most likely winner of the $60,000 Hermosa Beach Handicap at Hollywood Park on Thanksgiving.

It is an untimely day to break with tradition, but skeptical horseplayers usually distrust horses that are overqualified. When a Grade 1 winner shows up in a minor stakes, it makes sense to bet against them. may win the Hermosa Beach at 1 1/2 miles on turf, but her 121-pound impost is high, and her odds are low. Seven other fillies and mares will try to beat her.

First post Thursday is 11 a.m., and the sixth-race feature goes at about 1:30 on the eight-race card. The early post gives horseplayers plenty of time to count their winnings and celebrate the holiday after cashing a juicy exacta in the Hermosa Beach with Nadeszhda and Test the Waters.

was just another import when she made her U.S. debut for trainer Neil Drysdale in a first-condition allowance against males Oct. 10.

"We ran her against colts because of the distance," Drysdale said of the 1 1/4-mile race. Nadeszhda broke slowly, trailed by 10 lengths, and then gobbled up the field to win going away by 1 1/2 lengths.

"I was impressed with her race, and I've been pleased with the way she's trained since she's arrived in the U.S.," Drysdale said.

He recognizes it is a big leap from an entry-level allowance to a minor stakes. "She's given me every indication she's of that quality," he said.

Nadeszhda has won 4 of 9.

Test the Waters was a convincing winner of the California Cup Distance Handicap at 1 1/4 miles Oct. 16. That race was at 1 1/4 miles; she runs an additional quarter-mile Thursday.

"I don't think distance is ever going to be a problem with her," said trainer Jeff Mullins. "She seems like the farther, the better."

Test the Waters has won 3 of her last 4, and 4 of 9 altogether.

The best horse in the race, of course, is Noches de Rosa. Trained by Richard Mandella, Noches de Rosa's lone win this year was in the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap on this course in May. A 6-year-old with multiple graded stakes wins, Noches de Rosa has won 7 of 26. Other starters include Leave to Appeal, Ponche de Leona, Conspiring, Daisyago, and Uraib.