03/08/2009 12:00AM

Acoma returns sharp in Azeri

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Acoma indicated her intent to be a player in the filly and mare handicap division this year with a powerful five-length win over Bear Now in the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Sunday. The race was the first start of the year for Acoma, a 4-year-old who covered the mile and a sixteenth in a sharp 1:42.55.

"Today, she really impressed me," said Julien Leparoux, who rode Acoma for trainer David Carroll. "She did it like a very good filly."

Acoma ($5) let the pace go as Devil House jumped out to the lead with Bear Now in close pursuit through fractions of 22.61 seconds for the opening quarter, 45.89 for the half-mile and 1:10.36 for six furlongs. Acoma, some eight lengths back at one point, moved up on the turn, angled out in midstretch and accelerated. She won under a hand ride for Leparoux, who on Saturday guided Einstein to victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap.

The Azeri was the local prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn on April 4. Carroll indicated earlier this week that Acoma could return to Oaklawn from her Fair Grounds base for the Apple Blossom with the right kind of effort in the Azeri.

Acoma, a daughter of Empire Maker, has now six of nine starts and earned $480,260. She concluded her 3-year-old season with victories in a pair of turf stakes, the Grade 3 Valley View at Keeneland in October and the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere at Churchill Downs on Nov. 8. In the spring, she won the Grade 3 Dogwood on the dirt at Churchill. Acoma races for breeders, Helen C. Alexander and Helen K. Groves.