06/23/2002 11:00PM

Azeri to stay close to home until Cup

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Azeri, the undisputed leader among the West Coast's older fillies, will not leave California until the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park in October.

Trainer Laura de Seroux has mapped out a tentative plan over the next few months that includes stakes at Del Mar and Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

On Sunday, de Seroux said that Azeri emerged from her win in Saturday's Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park in excellent shape. The Vanity was Azeri's fourth consecutive Grade 1 win; earlier at this meeting, Azeri won the Grade 1 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Azeri returned on Saturday night to de Seroux's barn at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego county, where she will be based before her next likely start in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 11.

Races such as the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont Park were considered, but de Seroux would rather keep the 4-year-old Astra at home until the fall.

"Since we're the leader, they can come to me," de Seroux said.

Azeri was unchallenged in the Vanity Handicap, leading throughout over 1 1/8 miles to win by three lengths as the 125-pound highweight. De Seroux is resigned that she will probably be given a higher assignment in the Clement Hirsch Handicap.

"I guess she'll have to go up at least two pounds," de Seroux said. "She has gotten stronger, but I am concerned about weight. I want her to be strong for the Breeders' Cup. She'll run two more times, at most. I won't commit to anything. I'll leave my options open."

Another race under consideration is the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Oak Tree at Santa Anita, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 2.

"I'm not afraid to train her up to the Breeders' Cup, say, for instance, after the Clement Hirsch," said de Seroux. "I could set up a mini-race in the morning.

"The Breeders' Cup is no gimme. There is going to be more action on the front in the Breeders' Cup than there has been out here."

The Vanity was Azeri's seventh win in eight starts. The loss was a runner-up finish by a length in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes over 1 1/8 miles last February to Summer Colony, a contender for the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"It was the first time going so far and she was far back against a filly that was good at the distance," de Seroux said. "That's the only time she felt the whip. That's the race that made her lay down and sleep for a couple of days. It's been the only tough race on her so far."

Since then, Azeri has been unbeaten in four Grade 1 stakes. The winning streak has made her California's top female and the one they will all be chasing in the buildup to the Breeders' Cup.

Oaks has international flair

The first running of the $500,000 American Oaks on July 6 will have a strong presence of fillies from Europe and other parts of the country.

When the 14 invitations were announced on Saturday, only three were extended to fillies who made their last starts at Hollywood Park - Megahertz and Arabic Song, the first two finishers of the Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 8, and Adoration, the winner of the Hollywood Oaks on June 15.

The international team includes stakes winners Ombre Legere, Portella, and Saranac Lake, as well as Clerical Error, Dublino and Tomori, who have been stakes-placed. Clerical Error and Ombre Legere are expected to stay in California after the American Oaks.

The national team include the stakes winners Cellars Shiraz, Distant Valley, and Riskaverse; Cyclorama, who has been stakes-placed; and Maliziosa, who has not won a graded or group stakes, but has won four of seven starts for trainer Bill Mott.

While the potential field lacks a well-known filly, Hollywood Park management is hoping the race will develop a following. To boost the race's presence, Hollywood Park is paying the expenses for shippers.

"It's not purse money or vanning and stabling funds," said track president Rick Baedeker. "It's our marketing dollars. We're hoping it becomes a showcase for the best fillies in the world. While they're may be unfamiliar names, it will be a great betting race."

Eight-year-old breaks down

Jorrocks, who fell in the stretch of the sixth race at Hollywood Park on Saturday, was the 10th fatality of the meeting, which began on April 24.

According to track stewards, the cause of death for the 8-year-old Jorrocks was not immediately available, but was not reported as a leg injury. A necropsy report will be conducted.

According to the stewards, six horses have been euthanized because of injuries suffered in races. The injuries have occurred in races on both turf and dirt.

Two horses, including Jorrocks, have died of other causes, and one, Hollywood Queen, was euthanized after striking the rail and injuring a shoulder following the eighth race last Thursday.

McClellan to focus on Solis

Scotty McClellan, who booked mounts for jockey Chris McCarron, always knew Sunday would be an emotional day. For 20 years, he and McCarron were a team through the highs of two Kentucky Derby wins and the lows of injuries that derailed McCarron's career.

Their professional partnership ended over the weekend when McCarron retired.

McClellan spoke in the winner's circle of McCarron's retirement ceremony. Earlier on the weekend, he began the latest phase of his career. For the time being, he is representing only Alex Solis, one of the top riders in Southern California.

McClellan, 47, says Solis will be his focus through Del Mar, which runs through Sept. 11. In the fall, he will reassess the situation.

"It will be kind of a break," McClellan said of Del Mar. "I love to fish and surf, and I'll have more time to do that with my kids. If I want to go back to two riders, I'll think about it after that.

"If you go jumping back into two riders, you're busy all the time. With one, it's less phone call and less work. It will be a pause for me, but it will be less money."

Repeat bid in Beverly Hills

Astra could give de Seroux her fourth Grade 1 win of the meeting when she starts as the favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Beverly Hills Handicap. The defending champion in the turf race over 1 1/4 miles on turf, Astra is expected to be the starting highweight. She won her previous start, the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap on May 27, with a late surge to catch Starine.

The competition in the Beverly Hills Handicap will include Blushing Bride, Canzone, Crazy Ensign, Peu a Peu, and Racene. Starine is passing the race in favor of the Ramona Handicap at Del Mar.

Sunday's main race is the $200,000 Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds over 1 1/8 miles on turf. Regiment, the winner of the Diamond USA Stakes at Lone Star Park on May 27, will be favored over Gobi Dan, Johar, Mananan McLir, Point Prince, Sunkosi, and Van Rouge.