04/14/2003 12:00AM

Azeri may wait for Milady


ARCADIA, Calif. - The grueling comeback triumph by Azeri April 5 at Oaklawn Park has given trainer Laura de Seroux reason to reconsider the immediate campaign for the reigning Horse of the Year. Azeri overcame a wide trip to win the Apple Blossom in her first start since the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and plans originally called for her to wheel back May 2 at Churchill Downs in the Grade 2 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"As hard as she laid it down in the Apple Blossom, the Louisville might come up a little close," de Seroux said Sunday. "There are two options - the Louisville, which involves shipping again and the zoo of the Derby, or the Milady, which is a Grade 1."

The Milady will be run May 24 at Hollywood Park.

San Luis Rey-based Azeri went back to the track Saturday for the first time since the Apple Blossom, and de Seroux is in no hurry to choose where Azeri starts next. If she stays home, Azeri could follow a campaign similar to 2002, when her Apple Blossom victory preceded wins in the Milady and Vanity at Hollywood. The purse for the Louisville is $300,000; the purse for the Milady is $200,000.

"At this point, it might not be about money, it might be about keeping her record intact, and [winning] Grade 1's," de Seroux said.

Aside from Azeri, the de Seroux stable will be a major force in stakes early in the Hollywood meet. Her top turf fillies Turtle Bow and Dublino are pointing to the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap on April 27. Ballingarry is aiming for the $400,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap on May 10, the same day Total Impact runs in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap.

Pick six bettors get stuck

The opening leg of Sunday's pick six - featuring a two-day carryover of $567,642 - started bad and went progressively downhill. Due to illness or injury, four horses were late scratches, and by the time three slow maidens finally left the gate for race 4, horseplayers were complaining that changes in the tote system precluded pick six bettors from using alternate selections in case of a late scratch.

Redinal was 6-5 on the program in the first leg, though many handicappers perceived the 0-for-7 gelding as vulnerable, and structured pick six tickets trying to beat him. There were six other entrants in the race, including five first-time starters. There was plenty at stake: More than $1.8 million was wagered into the pick six Sunday.

Then the race fell apart. Two Steppin Bert (6-1) got sick and scratched early. Joe Leo (7-2) flipped over backward in the paddock, smacked his head against the wall, and scratched. Dance Withthephone (5-1) reared in the gate, injured himself, and scratched. Moon Mission (20-1) also injured himself in the gate. He scratched. That left three runners; suddenly Redinal was 1-5 to win his eighth career start.

Pick six bets that used the scratched horses were transferred automatically to the favorite, like him or not. Because it was the initial leg of the pick six, bettors were allowed to cancel or change bets in the final few minutes, if they had time to do so. Bettors who used the late-scratched horses and did not change their tickets were stuck with Redinal.

The chorus of boos when Redinal and jockey Pat Valenzuela returned after a second-place finish suggested many bettors had keyed pick six bets around Redinal, the most heavily favored runner in the sequence. The $6 winner was first-time starter Slewpy Come Home, who ran six furlongs in a dawdling 1:12.08.

The inability to use alternate selections frustrated some bettors. In the wake of the Breeders' Cup Pick Six scandal, Autotote, the company that processes bets at Santa Anita, has introduced increased security measures that call for "scanning" pick six bets after each leg of the sequence. The identification of live tickets after each race prevents losing tickets from being changed into winners, as they were in the Breeders' Cup. Autotote cannot scan for live pick six tickets if alternate selections are used. Santa Anita discontinued alternate selections after the start of the meet.

Regarding software that would allow Autotote to scan for live tickets while also allowing bettors to use alternate selections, an Autotote spokesman said Monday "it is in development. Security is of primary importance."

The remaining five legs of the pick six were conducted Sunday with no more problems. Only one favorite won, but $13.40 was the highest win mutuel. There were 105 winning pick six tickets and each returned $15,046.20. The winners were: Slewpy Come Home ($6), My Sweet Lucy ($11.60), Albatros ($7.80), Welcome Aboard ($4.60), Runaway Pro ($13.40), and J H Cheyenne ($7.20).

Excessivepleasure iffy for Snow Chief

Excessivepleasure, the early favorite for the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, is only 50-50 to run. The Snow Chief Stakes is the marquee race on the $1.3 million Gold Rush Day for California-breds on April 26 at Hollywood Park.

Excessivepleasure won the $500,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park March 30 and resumes a regular work pattern this week. His trainer, Doug O'Neill, stopped short of committing the 3-year-old to the Snow Chief.

"I would love to run him because [Hollywood] is the track he trains on, it's his back yard, it's Cal-breds, and it's $250,000," O'Neill said Sunday. "Those are hard to pass up. The only thing that would make us not run is if we felt he wasn't 100 percent. We're probably 50-50 for the Snow Chief, but leaving options open."

Though nine furlongs would pose a challenge for Excessivepleasure in the Snow Chief, he would enter as the most accomplished starter. He has 3 wins, 2 seconds and earnings of $442,502 from 5 starts. The backup plan includes two months off and a June 7 comeback in the Grade 2 Riva Ridge Stakes, a seven-furlong race on the Belmont stakes undercard.

O'Neill's top sprinter, Avanzado, has returned from Dubai and is aiming for the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap on July 5 at Hollywood.

Weekend stakes probables

All three turf stakes closing weekend are coming up weak. Probables for the Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano on Sunday include Champion Lodge, Adminniestrator, All the Boys, Passinetti, Special Matter, and Timber Cruiser.

Probables for the Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap on Saturday include Noches de Rosa, Garden in the Rain, Megahertz, and Trekking. Probables for the Grade 3 San Simeon Handicap on Saturday include Ecstatic, Kachamandi, and Thunder Bullet.

* Jockey Fernando Valenzuela, who had not ridden in more than a year when he returned March 22, scored the first win of his comeback Sunday by riding first-time starter Slewpy Come Home to a two-length in race 4. Valenzuela, 33, broke his arm March 2, 2002, an injury that kept him on the sidelines until this March 22. The win on Slewpy Come Home was his first since Jan. 24, 2002, and came in his 15th mount since returning. Slewy Come Home is trained by Ted Pilmer.

* Jockey Scotty Ziesing, 21, scored his first Santa Anita victory Saturday with longshot first-time starter Bartok's Beau. Bartok's Beau returned $85 and helped key a two-day pick six carryover into Sunday of $567,642. Ziesing rode at Fair Grounds and Evangeline Downs before joining the local riding colony. He is from Lafayette, La., near the hometowns of jockeys Robby Albarado and Kent Desormeaux.

* The war in Iraq led hunch bettors to the first daily double on Saturday. Bush Triumph and Enduring Freedom combined for a $7.20 payoff.