11/22/2004 1:00AM

Azeri: Run or pass?

Email
Horsephotos
Azeri (right) ran briefly with Ghostzapper (left) early on in the BC Classic before fading.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Will she or won't she? Azeri still had not been committed to the Falls City Handicap as of Monday, with trainer D. Wayne Lukas saying the decision would come when entries were taken Tuesday morning for the Grade 2 race, to be run Thursday.

Lukas said owner Michael Paulson would have the final say on whether Azeri would accept high weight of 126 pounds in the $300,000 Falls City, which ignites the meet-closing "Big Four" weekend at Churchill Downs.

Azeri, the all-time leading filly-mare earner with a bankroll of more than $4 million, has had only one official workout, on Nov. 9, since she finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 30. However, on Sunday morning, Lukas said he "let her breeze a little through the stretch" during routine training.

"She doesn't need much," he said. "That last race was a very good one."

Apparently one of the main issues facing Paulson and Lukas revolves around the Eclipse Award for top filly or mare. If they believe Azeri has accomplished enough this year to merit the Eclipse, and the risk-reward equation for running in the Falls City tilts against them, then they might very well choose to skip the race and ship her to California, where she would have a final start or two early next year before being retired.

On the plus side for running is that Azeri would be a huge favorite, because the competition in the Falls City will not be nearly as tough as what the 6-year-old mare has been facing. The negative side is that if she somehow loses, the Eclipse also could be lost.

Pat Day will ride Azeri if she runs. Day's agent, Doc Danner, is among the many people that Lukas has guessing. "I honestly wish I knew what Wayne's going to do," Danner said.

This has been an eventful year for Azeri and her connections.

In her first start for Lukas, who took over the job of training the mare from Laura de Seroux, Azeri scored a stunning win in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn in April. She then lost three straight races before winning the Grade 1 Go for Wand in August against Sightseek, the mare who most observers believe is Azeri's most serious competition for the Eclipse. Her three most recent starts resulted in a runner-up finish to Storm Flag Flying in the Personal Ensign, an easy win in the Grade 1 Spinster, and the Breeders' Cup defeat.

If Azeri doesn't run Thursday in the 1 1/8-mile Falls City, the favorite's role might be inherited by Halory Leigh, a highly impressive winner of her last two races, including the Nov. 7 Churchill Downs Distaff.

Other probables include Indy Groove, Mayo on the Side, and, if Azeri is out, Lukas said he would run Susan's Angel.

Meanwhile, the prospective lineup for the traditional meet highlight, the $500,000 Clark Handicap on Friday, is holding firm, with Perfect Drift and Saint Liam likely to be among the favorites in an excellent lineup.

With weights, the following horses were under serious consideration for the Grade 2 Clark as of Monday: Lundy's Liability, 120 pounds; Perfect Drift, 118; Saint Liam, 117; Colonial Colony, 116; Midway Road, 116; Sir Cherokee, 116; Purge, 115; Eurosilver, 113; Fantasticat, 113; Suave, 113; Best Minister, 111; and Seek Gold, 111.

The meet closes Saturday with a pair of 2-year-old stakes. Straight Line, winner of the Iroquois Stakes, is wheeling back as part of a sizable field for the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club, a race that also could get B.B. Best, Greater Good, Highgrove, Magna Graduate, Rush Bay, Storm Surge, and Social Probation.

The KJC's sister race, the $200,000 Golden Rod, is expected to attract perhaps seven or eight 2-year-old fillies, led by Runway Model, In the Gold, and Kota.

McPeek doubles up

Trainer Ken McPeek enjoyed a big weekend by sweeping a pair of newly created $70,800 overnight handicaps for 2-year-olds on the grass.

Sweet Talker led most of the way to take the Caressing for fillies on Saturday, the day before Exceptional Ride went last to first to take the Grand Canyon for colts and geldings.

"They're both really nice horses with a lot of upside," said McPeek.

Battle Won heading to Hong Kong

The connections of Battle Won have accepted an invitation to the Hong Kong Turf Sprint, a $1.28 million race on Dec. 12. Owner Jay Manoogian and trainer Chuck Simon initially planned to run Battle Won this weekend in the Hollywood Turf Express before being invited to Hong Kong, where Corey Nakatani will ride Battle Won.

Battle Won blew out three furlongs in a bullet 34 seconds over a fast track Monday at Churchill.