04/06/2002 12:00AM

Azeri rallies to win Apple Blossom


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Azeri, a maiden winner just five months ago, won her second straight Grade 1 race Saturday when she rallied to win the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park by 1 3/4 lengths over Affluent. It was three-quarters of a length back in third to Miss Linda.

Azeri ($4) hopped out at the start, then sat off pacesetter Miss Linda in fourth early in the 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares. She moved up around the turn, overtook the leaders in the stretch, and powered home, covering the distance in 1:42.60.

Jockey Mike Smith was aboard Azeri for trainer Laura de Seroux. Azeri, a 4-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter who won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita in her last start, races for Allen E. Paulson Living Trust. She earned $300,000 for the win, her fifth in six starts, which improved her earnings $600,400.

Fleet Renee, a two-time Grade 1 winner last year, was scratched from the race Saturday morning. The Apple Blossom was expected to be her first start since she finished third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Gazelle on Sept. 8.

Kudos does it on dirt

In the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, Kudos proved he is better on dirt than turf when he closed from last to win the 1 1/8-mile race by 4 3/4 lengths over Bowman's Band. It was a head back in third to Dollar Bill.

Kudos, who was bumped at the start, raced some 15 lengths behind pacesetter Crafty Shaw, who led the field through an opening six furlongs in 1:10.40. At the top of the stretch, Kudos had one horse beat, but he rallied strongly through the lane to cover the distance over a fast track in 1:48.34.

Eddie Delahoussaye rode Kudos for trainer Richard Mandella, who also won the Oaklawn Handicap in 1997 with Atticus. Kudos races for his breeders, Jerome and Ann Moss. Kudos returned $6.80 as second choice in the wagering behind Graeme Hall.

The Oaklawn was the first Grade 1 victory for Kudos, who in his last start finished a troubled third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Last year, the gelding was a regular stakes performer on turf. He earned $300,000 for the victory Saturday, which pushed his earnings to $708,935.

Mandella said the major objective for Kudos this year is the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park on July 14.

A special daily double was offered on the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap and the bet returned $14.80.

The Apple Blossom shared a program with the Oaklawn Handicap for the first time, and together the two races made for the richest program ever at Oaklawn Park Attendance ontrack was 31,046.

* Oaklawn Park will race 55 days next year from Jan. 24 to April 12 after the Arkansas Racing Commission approved the track's date request during a meeting Saturday. The schedule is almost indentical to the current meet, a 54-day season that will wrap up April 13.