10/25/2004 11:00PM

Ashado now inherits role of favorite


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - That sound you heard from coast to coast about 2 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday was the collective cheer of trainers with horses in the Breeders' Cup Distaff reacting to the decision of owner Michael Paulson and trainer D. Wayne Lukas to run Azeri in the Classic on Saturday at Lone Star Park.

Azeri was the acknowledged favorite in the Distaff. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, listed her at 6-5 on his early line. That was the shortest-priced favorite in the eight Breeders' Cup races. Now, the Distaff becomes a far more wide-open affair.

"It makes it an easier race, but not an easy race," said Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Ashado. Rick Lee, the morning-line maker at Lone Star, said Ashado will now be "a lukewarm favorite, at 7-2."

Ashado, the Kentucky Oaks winner, most recently won the Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park.

Azeri's defection to the Classic means that two of the leading older mares in the country are out of the Distaff. Sightseek won this month's Beldame Stakes, and then was retired.

"More than a month ago, we felt like there was a very good chance both Sightseek and Azeri might not run in the Distaff," Pletcher said. "That's one reason we decided to give [Ashado] a prep four weeks out," which Pletcher thought was the ideal spacing to bring Ashado into the Distaff in prime condition.

Craig Dollase, the trainer of Elloluv, said "beautiful" when informed Azeri was going in the Classic.

"That makes my whole day," Dollase said. "It's kind of a shock. It helps our chances that much more."

Elloluv finished second in last year's Distaff to Adoration. She most recently finished third in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

The winner of the Lady's Secret was Island Fashion. Her trainer, Marcelo Polanco, said, "That's very good news," when told Azeri was in the Classic.

"She's tough," Polanco said of Azeri. "I would like to meet her. But not in this race."

With Azeri going in the Classic, a field of 11 was scheduled to be entered in the Distaff on Wednesday morning: Ashado (John Velazquez the rider), Bare Necessities (Jose Valdivia Jr.), Elloluv (Corey Nakatani), Hollywood Story (Tyler Baze), Indy Groove (Mark Guidry), Island Fashion (Kerwin John), Nebraska Tornado (undecided), Society Selection (Cornelio Velasquez), Stellar Jayne (Robby Albarado), Storm Flag Flying (Jerry Bailey), and Tamweel (Rene Douglas).

Society Selection completed her serious training for the Distaff with a seven-furlong work in 1:26 on Tuesday morning at Lone Star Park. Shannon Uske was aboard. The track was muddy.

"She handles mud better than the average horse," said Allen Jerkens, who trains Society Selection. Jerkens originally had scheduled the work for Wednesday, but decided to move it up.

"It looks like it's going to rain all week anyway, so we might as well get it out of the way," Jerkens said. "It's muddy, but the horses are moving well on it."

Bare Necessities, Stellar Jayne, and Tamweel arrived here Tuesday on flights from Kentucky.