12/23/2003 12:00AM

Azeri may attempt comeback


ARCADIA, Calif. - Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, is expected to be sent back to California this weekend with the hope of returning her to racing under a new trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

An official announcement is expected in the next few days. Michael Paulson, who manages the Allen Paulson Living Trust, which owns Azeri, did not deny the move when questioned on Tuesday morning but would say only that "a decision is forthcoming."

"I don't want to confirm anything at the moment," Paulson said from his home in Las Vegas. "Nothing's prepared, but something will be announced imminently."

Azeri, who will turn 6 on Jan. 1, has been in Kentucky for nearly two months. She was sent there after trainer Laura de Seroux said Azeri had developed an inflamed tendon in her left front leg in October. Azeri's 11-race win streak came to an end in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 28. She had two workouts following that race while preparing to defend her title in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but had to be aggressively persuaded to begin her work. It was after the second work that de Seroux said she discovered a bowed tendon.

At the time, de Seroux recommended that Azeri be retired. Paulson, however, said he wanted to see how Azeri's recuperation went before making a decision on her future. Paulson subsequently sent his few remaining runners with de Seroux to other trainers.

According to Paulson, a recent examination of Azeri showed "no swelling, no fibers out of alignment."

"The insurance report says it's a 'miraculous recovery.' That's what it says," Paulson said.

De Seroux - who trained Azeri to a record of 14 wins in 16 starts and earnings of $3,044,820 - called it something else when contacted late Tuesday morning.

"Shame on them both," she said, referring to Paulson and Lukas. Then, referring to her mentor, the late Charlie Whittingham, de Seroux said, "Charlie said the only one who ever did any good with a bow was Robin Hood."

Silent Sighs tops Cal Breeders'

Silent Sighs, a narrow loser to House of Fortune in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies, should be a prohibitive favorite against five rivals in Saturday's $125,000 California Breeders' Champion Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Santa Anita.

The seven-furlong Cal Breeders' is the third race on the card. It also includes Yearly Report, a sharp maiden winner at Hollywood Park last month in her lone start.

Silent Sighs has the edge in both experience and accomplishments. She was a six-length winner of her debut here on Oct. 13 going six furlongs, then turned in a sensational performance in the Cal Cup. Silent Sighs broke from post 9 going 1 1/16 miles, set a sharp pace, then was worn down late by House of Fortune. She lost by a half-length, but was 12 lengths clear of the third-place runner.

House of Fortune came back to finish third in last week's Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet, a race trainer Julio Canani elected to bypass with Silent Sighs.

"My filly got awfully tired," Canani said. "She tried to tie up in the receiving barn. She had never had a work over five furlongs. I wanted to bring her into this race fresh. Listen to me, I think she's an awfully nice filly."

So is Yearly Report, who breezed home four lengths best in her debut. She tuned up for Saturday's race with a half-mile work in 46.60 seconds Tuesday morning under exercise rider Dana Barnes.

"I thought she might be a little short in her first race, but I guess she wasn't," said her trainer, Bob Baffert. "She's a nice filly. So is Canani's filly. I was tempted to run her in the Starlet, but I didn't want to send her two turns in her second start. We'll find out how good she is."

Tikkun to shorten up

Trainer Ben Cecil is hoping the headstrong Tikkun will find a downhill turf sprint far more agreeable than a two-turn race when he makes his second United States start in Saturday's eighth race at 6 1/2 furlongs.

Tikkun displayed quite a bit of promise in Britain, where early in his career he beat Mineshaft, the favorite to be named this country's Horse of the Year for 2003.

"But then he started running off," Cecil said. "He ran off his first time here. He's got a lot of ability. Hopefully, coming down the hill will help him settle."

Cecil, who trained last year's champion female turf runner, Golden Apples, said Tikkun trains like a top horse.

"Training wise, I haven't had one that trains like that," Cecil said. "He works like a serious horse. His mind is his problem. We've done a lot of gate work. He seems to be making progress."

Tikkun was gelded before arriving at Cecil's barn. In his lone start for Cecil, he ran off to a long lead, then stopped. He has finished last in three straight races, beaten a total of 84 1/4 lengths.

The eighth-race field is headed by the accomplished turf sprinters Abderian and F J's Pace, and the promising French-raced import Private War, who is making his U.S. debut for trainer Bobby Frankel.

* Another interesting race on Saturday's card is the fifth, an entry-level allowance race for 2-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles. It is topped by Dwango, a Royal Academy colt who was a six-length winner against maidens at Hollywood on Nov. 30 for trainer Bob Hess Jr. The Touch Gold colt Misty'sgoldentouch, a runaway maiden winner at Sam Houston in his lone start, makes his first start since being privately purchased by Bob Baffert.

* Halfbridled, who completed a perfect season with her victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, had an easy three-furlong work in 38.60 seconds on Tuesday morning at Santa Anita for trainer Richard Mandella. She is not expected to race again until February.

* Rain began to fall just before noon on Tuesday at Santa Anita, and the track maintenance crew quickly sealed the main track. A heavy storm was forecast for Christmas Day, but the weather was supposed to be better for the first two days of the meeting, Friday and Saturday.