08/24/2004 11:00PM

Azeri may feel some heat

Azeri, with Pat Day riding, wins the Go for Wand in stakes-record time. In the Personal Ensign, she will race 1 1/4 miles for the first time.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Azeri flashed her championship form when she broke a three-race losing streak with a stakes-record performance winning the Go for Wand Handicap earlier this month. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas believes that was a launching pad for bigger and better things.

"I think I'm getting more on the same page with her," Lukas said.

"I think she's getting good. I think she's thrived on the cool weather up here. She's just doing damn good."

We'll see just how good Friday when returns in the Grade 1, $400,000 Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga. Azeri will face four rivals in the Personal Ensign, including graded stakes winners Storm Flag Flying and Roar Emotion.

Summer Wind Dancer, the Delaware Handicap winner, was not entered after her flight from California was grounded in Louisville on Wednesday. Trainer Jeff Mullins did not feel comfortable entering a Grade 1 race without a day to train and school his filly at Saratoga.

The Personal Ensign will be Azeri's first start at 10 furlongs. But Lukas does not believe the distance will be a problem for the two-time older female division champion and 2002 Horse of the Year.

"She has a high cruising speed, and I think she'll relish it, frankly," said Lukas, who surprisingly has yet to win this race. "I think she'll be fine."

Should Azeri perform well at the 1 1/4 miles, it could make her a candidate for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic against males at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30.

"That will be a consideration," owner Michael Paulson said, "but we're going to take it one race at time."

Last week, Azeri tuned up for the Personal Ensign by working six furlongs in 1:11.66 over the Oklahoma training track. It was an unusually fast move over a deep surface, and it had jaws slacked throughout the track.

"I wouldn't prescribe going one-eleven and three, but after she did it the way she did it and cooled out and everything, I'm comfortable with it," Lukas said.

Azeri will break from post 2 under Pat Day and high weight of 122 pounds. She will concede six to 12 pounds to her four rivals.

It appeared as though Azeri would be the controlling speed in the Personal Ensign, but trainer Kiaran McLaughlin made a last-minute decision to enter Roar Emotion, creating the potential for an early speed duel. Roar Emotion has won two graded stakes on the front end, and is coming off a second-place finish after setting the pace in the Delaware Handicap.

McLaughlin said he is hoping to get Roar Emotion a Grade 1 stakes placing and is hoping jockey Jerry Bailey can avoid having Roar Emotion go head and head with Azeri.

"I hope that Jerry can get her back off of her and not get hooked up with her, because that will be a worst-case scenario," McLaughlin said.

The addition of Roar Emotion to the field could bolster the chances of Storm Flag Flying, the 2002 juvenile filly champion. Storm Flag Flying finished ahead of Azeri in the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park in June. She had to settle for third behind Azeri and Sightseek in the Go for Wand.

"We were hung down on the inside the other day," said trainer Shug McGaughey, referring to the Go for Wand. McGaughey has won this race twice and was the trainer of Personal Ensign. "I don't know that she got to run her race quite the way we wanted her to. Azeri was on the lead by herself when Jerry [Bailey] took back on Sightseek."

Storm Flag Flying came out of the Go for Wand with a cut on a leg that required stitches. Still, McGaughey has been pleased with her last two breezes.

Board Elligible is a New York-bred who has won her last three dirt starts, all in open company, while earning respectable speed figures. Nevermore has improved since undergoing throat surgery, and trainer James Bond is hoping the distance can be an equalizing factor.

The field

Personal Ensign Handicap
Purse: $400,000; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1Storm Flag FlyingJ. Velazquez1165-2
2AzeriP. Day1223-5
3NevermoreE. Prado 11030-1
4Roar EmotionJ. Bailey1157-2
5Board ElligibleP. Fragoso11212-1

* Odds by Steve Grabowski