03/31/2003 12:00AM

Azeri, Medaglia d'Oro due in for Festival


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, and Medaglia d'Oro, one of the top handicap horses in training, are scheduled to fly to Oaklawn Park on Wednesday for their respective starts in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom and Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

The races will share a card Saturday, the beginning of the Racing Festival of the South. At least one stakes will be held each racing day from then through the end of the meet on April 12.

Azeri came out of her final work for the Apple Blossom, a five-furlong move in 58.20 seconds Saturday, in good order, said Laura de Seroux, who trains her for the Allen Paulson Living Trust.

"She's breathing fire, literally," said de Seroux.

The Apple Blossom will be the 5-year-old debut for Azeri, who has not raced since her five-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 26. She will be ridden by Mike Smith.

Last year, every starter in the Apple Blossom was a Grade 1 or Group 1 winner. That could happen again this year. Azeri, the 123-pound highweight, will spot her four probable rivals between five and 13 pounds.

Take Charge Lady, the second highweight at 118, worked a bullet five furlongs Monday at Gulfstream Park in 1:00.80. Also pointing for the race are Affluent, 117, Alex Solis; Mandy's Gold, 116, Rene Douglas; and Rhiana, 110.

All are Grade 1 winners except for Rhiana, who two races ago was third in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita.

Bien Nicole, winner of the Grade 3 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup in her last start, and Took Out, fifth in that race, are being considered for the Apple Blossom.

Medaglia d'Oro, expected to be the 122-pound highweight under Jerry Bailey, had two firm rivals for the Oaklawn Handicap on Monday: defending champ Kudos, 115, to be ridden by Alex Solis, and Crafty Shaw, 114, who will have James Lopez up.

Colorful Tour, at 114 pounds, was possible on Monday, said trainer Noel Hickey, as is the Joe Woodard-trained Slider at 111.

Eight probables for Arkansas Derby

Man Among Men, winner of the $75,000 Sham over Empire Maker two races ago at Santa Anita, is one of eight probable starters for the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby April 12, track officials said Monday.

Empire Maker won the Grade 1 Florida Derby in his race after the Sham.

Others pointing for the Arkansas Derby are Ten Cents a Shine, sixth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Fountain of Youth and eighth in the Grade 2 San Felipe; Aristocat, second last out in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby; Defrere's Vixen, fifth in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby; and locals Crowned King, Great Notion, Comic Truth, and Sir Cherokee, the first- through fourth-place finishers in the $125,000 Rebel here.

Locals lead Fantasy

My Trusty Cat and Ruby's Reception, one-two in the $75,000 Honeybee here March 8, are expected for a rematch in the Grade 2, $200,000 Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies on April 11.

Explosive Beauty, third in the Honeybee after winning the first two stakes of the meet for 3-year-old fillies, will skip the race. She has been sent to owner K.K. and Vilasini Jayaraman's farm in Ocala, Fla., for some rest and will return in the summer, said trainer Cole Norman.

Those possible for the Fantasy include Chimichurri, third last out in the Grade 3 Forward Gal for trainer Todd Pletcher, and Rebridled Dreams, fourth to Lady Tak last time in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks for trainer Bret Calhoun.

My Trusty Cat ran third in the Grade 2 Golden Rod and won the $250,000 Delta Princess at Delta Downs in her final starts at 2. David Vance trains My Trusty Cat, while Larry Jones trains Ruby's Reception, second last year in the Grade 2 Alcibiades.

Beau's Town considering Count Fleet

Beau's Town, who earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 112 for his win last out in the $150,000 Pelleteri Breeders' Cup at Fair Grounds, remains under serious consideration for the Grade 3, $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at six furlongs April 10. His connections are also looking at the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland.

If he goes in the Count Fleet, Beau's Town could face locals Honor Me, Chindi, and Sand Ridge, the one-two-three finishers in the $50,000 Hot Springs.

Trainer Christopher Paasch has nominated two horses, Roman Dancer, winner of the Grade 3 Bay Shore last April at Aqueduct, and Mighty David. Paasch said he is still undecided if either will ship for the Count Fleet.