05/20/2003 11:00PM

Azeri scares off all but four Milady rivals

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year who has won eight consecutive stakes, is expected to have only four opponents when she makes her 2003 California debut in Saturday's $200,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Wednesday, trainer Neil Drysdale confirmed that Damaschino, a stakes winner in Australia last year who was fourth in the Wilshire Handicap last month, will make her first start on dirt in the Grade 1 Milady, run over 1 1/16 miles.

The other members of the field are Affluent, who has faced Azeri five times but has yet to finish in front of her, plus Enjoy and Keys to the Heart, two 4-year-old fillies trained by Beau Greely.

Damaschino has won 6 of 25 starts and $234,906. A 5-year-old, she won two Group 3 stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf last fall in Australia before joining Drysdale's stable over the winter.

Owned by Vinery Farm, Damaschino was beaten four lengths in the Wilshire Handicap on April 27 after being steadied on the backstretch.

"She didn't have the best of trips last time," Drysdale said. "Maybe she can get Grade 1-placed. I think this is the good time to try the dirt."

Azeri faced short fields frequently last year during her championship campaign. She faced four opponents in the 2002 Apple Blossom, Vanity, and Clement Hirsch Handicaps.

In her lone start this year, she beat six other fillies and mares in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5.

Greely admits he is taking a shot with his pair. Enjoy has won three consecutive races and is making her stakes debut. Keys to the Heart won the Grade 3 Hawthorne Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on dirt on April 25 at 17-1, her first stakes win.

"I think it would be fun to beat her on Saturday," Greely said. "She's going to get beat one day, isn't she?"

Azeri arrived at Hollywood Park on Tuesday from trainer Laura de Seroux's base at San Luis Rey Downs in northern San Diego County.

She galloped 1 3/8 miles on the main track on Wednesday.

"I was a little bit apprehensive because she has been tough at home, but she was good," de Seroux said. "She has been very, very strong."

There were 14 nominations for the Milady, but many of the circuit's top older fillies and mares are passing. Starrer, the winner of the Santa Margarita and Santa Maria handicaps earlier this year, is out with an ankle injury. Got Koko, who swept the La Canada Stakes series at Santa Anita, is being prepared for Del Mar.

Sightseek and You, who have raced in Grade 1 company in Southern California in the last year, are now based in New York with trainer Bobby Frankel.

Even some of the less accomplished fillies and mares are avoiding Azeri.

Bare Necessities, the winner of the Santa Lucia and Sixty Sails handicaps this year, will start in the $300,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 14. Rhiana, second in the Hawthorne, has been given a brief vacation at a local farm, trainer Dan Hendricks said.

Gamely also coming up short

The Milady is the first of three Grade 1 races over the weekend at Hollywood Park. Monday, the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/8 miles on turf will have a short field, but the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Mile on turf will have approximately eight runners.

Damaschino was considered a candidate for the Gamely at the beginning of the week. Her absence leaves the field with five probables - Dress to Thrill, Dublino, Megahertz, Miss Terrible, and Tates Creek.

Wednesday, Miss Terrible, and Tates Creek worked six furlongs on turf in 1:13.60. Miss Terrible is an Argentine import who has won 8 of 9 starts, including seven consecutive wins in Group 1 stakes.

The Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile probables are Century City, Ladies Din, Medecis, Redattore, Special Ring, Tijiyr, Touch of the Blues, and War Zone. Century City and War Zone had to be supplemented for $10,000 on Wednesday to remain eligible.

Century City, trained by Greely, won the Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita in April but was only seventh in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 3.

"I didn't think Churchill Downs had that sandy of a turf course," Greely said. "He didn't stand up on it. I think we will stay at home for a while. It's no fun to go out of town, bill people, and run [badly]."

Two new barns finished at Del Mar

Del Mar has built two new barns as part of a $1.2 million renovation for the upcoming summer meeting, which runs from July 23 to Sept. 10, according to a statement released by the racetrack.

The two new barns, UU and RR, are part of a long-term backstretch renovation. Barn RR was built for $450,000 and includes 38 stalls and 16 tack rooms.

Barn UU includes 16 stalls and three tack rooms and cost $200,000. They replaced barns that were 50 years old.

Momentum back in training

Momentum, second to Pleasantly Perfect in the Goodwood Handicap last fall, has returned to training with Craig Dollase and is currently galloping. He was sidelined last fall with what Dollase called "a soft tissue injury."

The 5-year-old Momentum was second in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic last summer. "It's good to have him back in the barn," Dollase said.

* Chief Planner, the winner of the Snow Chief Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds on April 26, worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds at Santa Anita. Trained by Bob Baffert, Chief Planner is being pointed to the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on June 22.