02/26/2004 1:00AM

Azeri to hit road for season debut


ARCADIA, Calif. - Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year who was briefly retired last fall before resuming training in late December, is being pointed for stakes in the Midwest in the spring, owner Michael Paulson said.

Unraced since finishing second in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita last September, Azeri has had three published workouts since early February. The most recent was a half-mile breeze in 47.80 seconds on Wednesday.

Paulson said the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 3 or the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap at Churchill Downs on April 30 are stakes that he and trainer D. Wayne Lukas are considering.

"We won't run at Santa Anita," Paulson said.

Azeri was previously trained by Laura de Seroux. In mid-October, de Seroux announced that Azeri had been retired because of a tendon injury. Now 6, Azeri was sent to Kentucky, where she underwent further tests before Paulson announced that she was resuming training.

"Everything is looking good," Paulson said. "She has really picked up the intensity."

Baffert mulls Fair Grounds trip

Trainer Bob Baffert is considering sending top 3-year-olds Wimbledon and Victory U. S. A. to Fair Grounds for upcoming stakes.

Wimbledon beat maidens by eight lengths over a mile on Feb. 8, the colt's fifth career start. He may return in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby on March 7.

Victory U.S.A. has not started since finishing fourth as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet in December. She was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies on Oct. 25, then returned to win the seven-furlong Moccasin Stakes by seven lengths on Nov. 16 at Hollywood Park.

Victory U. S. A. is possible for the $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 6, but Baffert said she could be supplemented to Sunday's $100,000 La Habra Stakes at Santa Anita.

The La Habra Stakes is scheduled for about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course, but recent rain could force a change to the main track. Baffert said Victory U. S. A. would not start on turf.

Island Fashion might tackle males

Island Fashion, the outstanding winner of the La Brea Stakes and Santa Monica Handicap at this meeting, has been nominated to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6. If she starts, the Big Cap would be her first race against males.

Trainer Marcelo Polanco said a decision on her participation will not be made until early next week. Weights for the Big Cap will be released on Sunday.

Island Fashion has started once over the Big Cap distance of 1 1/4 miles - winning the Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga last summer.

Both of Island Fashion's wins at this meeting are at seven furlongs. She was entered for the Santa Maria Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 16, but owner Jeffrey Nielsen withdrew the filly a day before the race, saying he wanted her in higher-profile races.

Aside from the Big Cap, Island Fashion is being considered for the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap on March 14 and the Apple Blossom Handicap.

The Big Cap is led by Pleasantly Perfect, the winner of three consecutive stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Classic last October and the San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31. He will be a strong favorite in a field expected to include Domestic Dispute, Olmodavor, Royal Place, Saint Buddy, Sarava, Southern Image, Star Cross, and Toccet.

Chinkapin, the winner of the Pomona Invitational Handicap last fall, will not start in the Big Cap because trainer Mike Mitchell recently noticed swelling in a leg.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Buddy Gil is questionable. The winner of the 2003 Santa Anita Derby, Buddy Gil was ninth in the Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 and 10th in the Strub Stakes on Feb. 7, his only two starts since returning from a leg injury.

San Rafael takes shape

Baffert has not finalized his lineup for the $200,000 San Rafael Stakes over a mile on March 6, a key prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

Baffert is considering Consecrate, who finished third in the San Vicente Stakes over seven furlongs on Feb. 7 in his 3-year-old debut.

Consecrate is winless in five consecutive stakes.

The San Rafael is led by Lion Heart, the undefeated winner of the Hollywood Futurity.

Trained by Patrick Biancone, he will make his 3-year-old debut in the San Rafael.

Other candidates include Imperialism and Hosco, the first two finishers in the San Vicente; Lucky Pulpit, the runner-up in the Santa Catalina Stakes in January; Quintons Gold Rush, a maiden race winner in January; Spellbinder, the winner of an optional claimer in January; Castledale, the winner of the Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park in November; and Toasted, an import from France.

Hosco suffered his first loss in the San Vicente, after three straight wins, including the six-furlong San Miguel Stakes on Jan. 11. In the San Vicente, over seven furlongs, Hosco led through fast fractions to the eighth pole and was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Imperialism.

The San Rafael will be Hosco's first start over a mile. "We want to see if he can go two turns," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

Desormeaux drops appeal

Jockey Kent Desormeaux has dropped an appeal of a three-day suspension he was given earlier this month.

Desormeaux will serve the days on Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday. He was penalized for failing to keep a straight course aboard Saint Chrisjon in the fourth race on Feb. 14. Saint Chrisjon was disqualified from third and placed fourth.

Through Wednesday, Desormeaux was fourth in the jockey standings with 31 wins, trailing leader Alex Solis by 19.

Dixie High nursing ankle injury

Dixie High, the winner of the Barretts Debutante last September, has been turned out after suffering an ankle injury in the Sunshine Millions Oaks at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24, trainer Adam Kitchingman said.

Kitchingman said Dixie High has been turned out for a month and will spend an additional three months on the sidelines. "She strained her ankle," he said. "It's nothing serious."

Dixie High ran third in the Oaks, finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind the heavily favored winner, Silent Sighs. Owned by Bill Peeples, Dixie High has won 2 of 6 starts and $125,946. Last fall, she finished sixth in both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Hollywood Starlet Stakes.