05/27/2002 11:00PM

Azeri campaign to focus on California races


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The latest Grade 1 victory by Azeri, the $200,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park last Saturday, has left trainer Laura de Seroux with a puzzle about how to campaign the potential champion in the second half of the year.

While the long-term goal is the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, the sequence of races that will be used to get there is not certain.

This much is clear: De Seroux is planning a California campaign that includes the $250,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park over 1 1/8 miles on June 22.

After that, the options include the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 11 or the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet in early October, or both.

"I wouldn't want to ship," she said. "I'd like to stay at home and only ship to the Breeders' Cup."

The nation's leading older filly or mare on dirt, Azeri has won three Grade 1 races this year. The Milady was preceded by the Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita and the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

"With the three Grade 1's, the priority for us is the Breeders' Cup," de Seroux said. "It's not a matter of money or winning another graded stakes."

There is a question of timing. De Seroux said the seven weeks between the Apple Blossom and the Milady was nearly too long. "It was all we could do to keep her on the ground," she said.

The layoff did not hurt Azeri's performance in the Milady. She led throughout and won by 3 1/2 lengths.

"She's happy as could be," de Seroux said. "She can work on her own like that, if we let her."

Kona Gold's 8-year-old debut

Kona Gold will make his 8-year-old debut in the $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap on Saturday, which will be only his second appearance at Hollywood Park. In 1998, he finished second in his career debut.

Through the years, trainer Bruce Headley has primarily campaigned Kona Gold at Del Mar and Santa Anita when racing in California. But after Kona Gold was given a vacation following a fourth-place finish in the De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel last November, he missed the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting.

The champion sprinter of 2000, Kona Gold has turned in a typically fast string of workouts at Santa Anita in recent weeks. "He's the same old Kona," Headley said.

In the six-furlong Los Angeles Handicap, Kona Gold will carry top weight of 125 pounds. Last year, he won the Portrero Grande and Bing Crosby handicaps under 126 pounds, but was second under 127 pounds in the Ancient Title Handicap.

The long-term goal is the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park. Kona Gold won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint and has run in the race annually since 1998. "We're going for five," Headley said.

In the Los Angeles Handicap, Kona Gold will face Echo Eddie, Full Moon Madness, Hombre Rapido, and Radiata. Men's Exclusive, who worked a half-mile in 48.40 seconds, may pass, according to trainer Wesley Ward.

Line Rider in Will Rogers

Line Rider, the winner of the Harry Henson Stakes on June 24, starts in Saturday's $100,000 Will Rogers Stakes over a mile on turf, his first race for trainer Mike Machowsky. Line Rider was previously trained by Tim Pinfield, who leaves this week to open a racing stable in Singapore.

Line Rider is expected to face Doc Holiday, Golden Arrow, Johar, National Park and True Phenomenon.

Sunday's $75,000 Cinderella Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs is led by Global Finance, the winner of the Nursery Stakes on May 11.

Crowned Dancer takes a break

After an eventful spring, Crowned Dancer, the winner of the Willard Proctor Stakes on Sunday, may get a short break before reappearing in July.

In March, Crowned Dancer was bought by Charlie and Karen Cono for $225,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale in Florida. Trainer Christopher Paasch, who attended the sale, put Crowned Dancer in training shortly after the colt returned to California.

The Proctor Stakes was Crowned Dancer's second start, following a second in a maiden race in early May. Paasch said he would like to pass the $75,000 Haggin Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs on June 16, and wait for the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs on July 20.

"We'll probably skip the next one unless he starts to get off the ground and I can't keep him on it," Paasch said. "The maiden race was like a workout for him."

Paasch admits that Crowned Dancer deserves a break. Colts such as Crowned Dancer sold at 2-year-olds in training sale can be put through rigorous workouts in advance of a sale. Crowned Dancer even breezed three furlongs before he was sold, Paasch said.

"It's nice to be in the situation that at the end of May, you can sit and wait," Paasch said. "I think if you run them too much, you won't let their bodies catch up."

Chalk talks

Monday's pick six pool reached $1,602,931, but the bet paid only $629.20 when all six favorites were successful. Consolation tickets with five winners returned $25.60. The track guaranteed the pick six pool would be at least $1 million.

The pick six race winners were Subpoena ($6.60), Astra ($5.20), Further ($5.40), Ladies Din ($6.80), Miss Tropics ($5.20), and Double Cat ($6).

* Tracemark, the runner-up in the California and Lone Star Derbies this spring, worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 on Monday. He may start in the Belmont Stakes on June 8, although a decision will be made closer to the race, according to trainer Craig Dollase.