11/23/2004 12:00AM

Azeri to pass on Falls City

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Azeri will skip the Falls City Handicap on Thanksgiving Day, mainly because her connections feel that her 126-pound assignment left her spotting too much weight to too many rivals.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nobody likes to show off a good horse to the racing public more than D. Wayne Lukas does. So the fact that Lukas, in consultation with owner Michael Paulson, chose not to run Azeri in the Falls City Handicap before a festive Thanksgiving crowd at Churchill Downs seems to underscore what was at risk if they had decided to run her.

In so many words, Lukas said the downside of Azeri losing the Falls City was greater than the upside of her winning. On the basis of what she already has accomplished this year, Azeri is widely considered the front-runner to be voted her third straight Eclipse Award as top older filly or mare.

"It's late in the year, and we're in a championship situation," Lukas said early Tuesday. "I'd like to think we're certainly in great shape" in regard to an Eclipse. "Obviously, I don't think it'd help her cause if she carried 126 pounds and got beat."

Lukas said the 126 pounds that Azeri was assigned in the Falls City "wasn't so much the problem as the spread between her and the others. She was going to have to give them [10 to 18] pounds. So then if she gets beat, and you want to say, 'Yeah, she got beat, but she was giving away all that weight,' well, that's not what the voters look at. They just see who won, who ran second, and so on. So that's what we're dealing with."

Lukas said he and Paulson debated running in the Falls City over the course of "a couple of days" before deciding against it.

"I know the fans and the people here at Churchill will be very disappointed, because a horse like Azeri can bring out a few extra thousand people," he said. "I think she would win if we ran, no doubt. But you still have to run the race. You don't run these things on paper. They're flesh-and-blood animals, and that's where the room for error comes in."

Lukas said Azeri would be shipped to California within the next few days and is still very much a candidate to run before year's end. He said he and Paulson would consider the Bayakoa, a Grade 2, $150,000 race at Hollywood Park on Dec. 12.

Straight Line out with hock infection

Straight Line, the hard-trying 2-year-old colt who romped to a five-length score in the Nov. 6 Iroquois Stakes, has been declared out of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes after coming down with a bacterial infection in his left hock.

Trainer Harvey Vanier said Straight Line came out of a Wednesday work in good order and "walked fine" on Sunday, but when the trainer and his crew came in Monday morning, "the hock had quite a bit of filling in it."

Vanier said veterinarian Doug Berry accompanied Straight Line to the Hagyard Davidson McGee equine clinic in Lexington, Ky., that morning and the initial prognosis is good. The colt is being treated with antibiotics and will have about a month of rest at Vanier's Rideaway Farm in Versailles, Ky., before heading to Florida for a winter campaign.

"He was going to get the month off anyway after the race," said Vanier.

Straight Line, owned by a partnership of Vanier's family and five Chicago-area stockbrokers, was the probable favorite going into the $200,000 KJC Stakes, which, with its sister race the Golden Rod Stakes, highlights the 21-day meet's closing card on Saturday.

With Straight Line out, the top names for the Grade 2 KJC Stakes are B.B. Best, a winner of two legs in the Florida Stallion Series; Greater Good, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile; and Magna Graduate, a recent Keeneland allowance winner who will have Pat Day riding for trainer Pat Byrne. About eight or nine are expected for the 1 1/16-mile race.

Colonial Colony fit for Clark

So far, trainer Dallas Stewart likes what he has seen of Colonial Colony, the 6-year-old horse who will be one of the favorites with Day aboard when the $500,000 Clark Handicap is run for the 130th time Friday.

"Still have to run him, but, yeah, he's trained really good for me," said Stewart.

Stewart was picked by breeder-owner Chris Nolan to take over the training of Colonial Colony after Walt Bindner Jr., who trained the horse to an upset of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap in June, fell out of favor with Nolan. Stewart has been training Colonial Colony for about two months.

Colonial Colony, sired by the noted stayer Pleasant Colony, has something of a plodding style that would be well served Friday if too much speed cooks the front-runners.

"He doesn't act like a speed horse," said Stewart. "He acts fit enough. I've breezed him quite a few times at five-eighths and three-quarters, and he's hardly gotten tired on me."

Colonial Colony is one of at least eight horses expected for the Grade 2 Clark, the traditional fall meet highlight. As of Tuesday afternoon, other definite starters were Lundy's Liability, Perfect Drift, Saint Liam, Sir Cherokee, Eurosilver, Suave, and Best Minister. Three more were listed as possible starters: Fantasticat, Midway Road, and Purge.

Fantasticat, still hindered by a quarter crack, breezed three furlongs Tuesday in 36 seconds over a fast track. "We're going to check out the foot and go from there," said trainer Bobby Barnett.

Runway Model drills for Golden Rod

Runway Model, the likely favorite for the Grade 2 Golden Rod, blew out for the race Tuesday at Churchill with a three-furlong drill in 35.80 seconds. Eddie Martin Jr., who has the mount in the 1 1/16-mile race, was aboard for the work.

"She did everything right," said trainer Bernie Flint. "She's always done everything right. I think she's a super filly."

Runway Model, winner of the Alcibiades and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is one of at least six 2-year-old fillies likely for the Golden Rod. The others are In the Gold, Culture Clash, Kota, Quiet Optimism, and Summerly.

Two other Golden Rod fillies also were entered in the BC Juvenile Fillies: Culture Clash ran 10th, and In the Gold was an early scratch.