06/05/2005 11:00PM

Andujar proves she's real deal

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Benoit & Associates
Andujar, who received a 106 Beyer Speed Figure for her easy win in the Milady, is likely to make her next start in the Vanity Handicap on July 3.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The older filly and mare division in California may have found a definitive new leader in Andujar, the winner of Saturday's at Hollywood Park.

In a division where the horses have largely taken turns beating one another this year, Andujar turned in the performance of the season in her stakes debut, scorching six rivals with a seven-length win in the Grade 2 Milady over 1 1/16 miles. She earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

Now, trainer Doug O'Neill and owners Paul Reddam and Mark Schlessinger are focusing on the top dirt race for females at the meeting - the $300,000 Vanity Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on July 3.

"We know she likes this track, it's in a month, and it's a Grade 1," O'Neill said.

What they did not know before the Milady was how Andujar would perform at the stakes level. Andujar won an allowance race in April by 10 1/2 lengths, which prompted her to be bought privately by Reddam, who later sold a minor share to Schlessinger.

"We were fairly confident when we bought her," Reddam said.

In the Milady, Andujar, 4, led throughout and pulled away in early stretch to win convincingly. Behind her were such notable fillies and mares as Hollywood Story, the winner of the Hawthorne Handicap; Star Parade, the winner of the 2004 Milady; and House of Fortune, a multiple stakes winner.

The win shocked O'Neill.

"I was hoping for a one-two-three finish," O'Neill said. "I figured if she duplicated the allowance race, she would be in the first three."

Instead, O'Neill and the owners got much more.

Steward assignments complete

There will be several new faces working as stewards in Southern California in the second half of the year. California Horse Racing Board executive director Ingrid Fermin announced the assignments late last week.

None of the four remaining meetings will have the same group of stewards that were employed in 2004.

At Del Mar, the stewards will be Dennis Nevin, Kim Sawyer, and George Slender. Of those three, only Slender presided over that meeting last year.

At the Los Angeles County Fair at Fairplex Park, the stewards will be Violet Smith, Nancy Ury, and Tom Ward. Ward is the only returning steward from the 2004 meeting. Smith is a steward in Arizona, while Ury, 29, is a first-year steward.

At the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, the board of stewards will be Slender, Sawyer, and Jon Herbuveaux, who has worked throughout the state in the past but not on the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit in recent years.

At the Hollywood Park fall meeting, the stewards will be Darrell McHargue, Sawyer, and Ward. McHargue is a steward in northern California.

The first-year steward, Ury, is currently the stable superintendent at Hollywood Park and a part-time commentator on the TVG racing network. Ury will also work three fair meetings in northern California - Stockton later this month, San Mateo in August, and Fresno in October.

Invitations sent to Japanese fillies

The first invitations for the $750,000 American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on July 3 have been released.

The Japan-based fillies Cesario and Dia de la Novia, the first- and third-place finishers in the $1.7 million Japanese Oaks at Tokyo Race Course on May 22, are expected to start in the Grade 1 race over 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Three Degrees, the winner of Sunday's Grade 2 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap here, has been invited.

Last year, the Japan-based Dance in the Mood finished second to the California-based Ticker Tape in the third running of the American Oaks.

Cesario has won 4 of 5 starts and $2,128,568. She won the Japanese Oaks over 1 1/2 miles on turf by a neck as the 1-2 favorite. Dia de la Novia, a winner of 3 of 6 starts and $1,005,041, was beaten a half-length in that race.

The American Oaks is expected to draw runners from Europe and throughout the United States.

Berbatim, who won the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in April but was pulled up in Sunday's Honeymoon after stumbling at the start and causing jockey Alex Solis to lose his irons, may not make the American Oaks.

Trainer Richard Mandella said Berbatim grabbed a quarter when she stumbled at the start.

"I don't know that I can heal it and get back to that [race]," he said of the American Oaks.

Pitino buys My Lucky Free

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino has acquired My Lucky Free, the runner-up in Saturday's Cinderella Stakes, according to new trainer Cam Gambolati.

Gambolati, best known for winning the 1985 Kentucky Derby with Spend a Buck, attended Saturday's race. He said that My Lucky Free may stay with current trainer Rafael DeLeon for one more start in the $100,000 Landaluce Stakes over six furlongs on July 2. Gambolati said My Lucky Free will race at Saratoga later this year.

My Lucky Free finished 3 1/2 lengths behind River's Prayer in the Cinderella, run over 5 1/2 furlongs for 2-year-old fillies. The race marked My Lucky Free's second start, following a maiden win in mid-May.

River's Prayer may be held out of the Landaluce Stakes in favor of the $125,000 California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Stakes at Del Mar on July 22.

"I came back a little quick for this race and she is a young horse," said Paula Capestro, the trainer and co-owner of River's Prayer. "I would like to give her a little breather."

Southern Image has first workout

Southern Image, the winner of the 2004 Sunshine Millions Classic and Santa Anita Handicap who has not raced in a year, is nearing a comeback.

Sunday, Southern Image, 5, breezed three furlongs in 38.80 seconds, his first recorded workout since resuming training in late February. Southern Image was sidelined last year because of injuries, primarily a foot problem.

Trainer Mike Machowsky is hoping that Southern Image can return for the $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 24.

"Everything is great right now," Machowsky said. "We will just bring him back gradually. We've put a lot of miles on him. I will put some slow works in him early."