04/24/2002 11:00PM

Ask Me No Secrets a fresh horse for Hawthorne

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In the last two months, trainer David Hofmans has used half the nation to keep the 4-year-old filly Ask Me No Secrets away from Azeri, the nation's top female on dirt.

When Azeri scored her first Grade 1 win in the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in early March, Ask Me No Secrets was waiting for the Grade 3 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup Stakes on March 16 at Oaklawn Park, a race she won convincingly.

When Azeri won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 6, Ask Me No Secrets was back in California waiting for Saturday's $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap at Hollywood Park.

The pair may meet in the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 25. By then, Hofmans is hopeful that Ask Me No Secrets will have successfully used the Hawthorne Handicap as a prep.

Owned by Earl Shultz, Ask Me No Secrets is the likely favorite in the Grade 3 Hawthorne, run over 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares.

By Seattle Slew, Ask Me No Secrets has not been worse than third in five starts, including a third-place finish behind Summer Colony and Azeri in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes at Sana Anita on Feb. 9, her stakes debut.

"She'll be fresh, and this is where she's stabled," Hofmans said.

The Hawthorne Handicap is not a free pass for Ask Me No Secrets. The competition includes Alexine, the winner of the Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita on April 7, and Verruma, the winner of the Dahlia Handicap here on turf last December.

Tactically, the race should suit Ask Me No Secrets. She led throughout the Oaklawn Breeders' Cup Handicap, but has come from behind to win in the past.

"At Oaklawn, she was on the pace, to the lead in early stretch and won it well," Hofmans said. "But we can sit right off of it."

Alexine is coming off the best dirt performance of her American career.

Trained by Richard Mandella, the Argentine-bred Alexine won the restricted Santa Lucia Handicap at Santa Anita on March 31, using a half-mile rally to catch Cashmina, a stubborn front-runner.

Verruma is a threat from off the pace. Trained by Jim Chapman, she has lost three starts since the Dahlia Handicap, most recently running fifth in the Apple Blossom Handicap. She could be a factor if she repeats the effort she put in finishing second to Favorite Funtime in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 17.

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