05/15/2003 11:00PM

Azeri working so fast it's scary


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In the last month, trainer Laura de Seroux admits to being both concerned and delighted at the way that Azeri, the reigning Horse of the Year, has worked in preparation for the $200,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park May 26.

A half-mile in 47.60 seconds on April 26 was followed by two blazing fast workouts this month: five furlongs in 58 seconds on May 6 and in 57.80 seconds on Friday.

"I don't want to say I was worried, but I was a little alarmed she was going faster than ever," de Seroux said. "She's just getting stronger. I didn't know whether to worry or be happy, but I've settled down now."

There is no doubt in de Seroux's mind that Azeri has rebounded well from her gritty victory in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 6, her first start of the year.

Friday's workout, a solo drill at San Luis Rey Downs training center in northern San Diego County, was Azeri's final workout before the Grade 1 Milady, which is run over 1 1/16 miles and is expected to have a short field.

The 5-year-old Azeri galloped out six furlongs in 1:09.60, de Seroux said.

"That's what good horses do," she said. "There isn't a degree of her being frantic, or pulling, or rank. She's very smooth. The only thing I've been doing is spacing her works farther out."

The Milady is the first of five graded stakes during a six-day racing week that includes racing on May 26, Memorial Day.

Azeri is attempting to become the first repeat winner of the Milady since Paseana in 1992-93.

Aside from Azeri, the Milady hopefuls include Affluent, Enjoy, and Keys to the Heart. Affluent won the Santa Monica Handicap over seven furlongs in January.

The $100,000 Will Rogers Stakes for 3-year-olds over a mile on turf is the top race next Sunday, May 25. Rapier Dancer, second in the Ascot Handicap at Bay Meadows May 10, is a leading contender.

There are three stakes on Memorial Day - the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap, the Shoemaker Mile, and the Laz Barrera Stakes. The card is typically one of the best of the spring-summer meeting.

The $350,000 Gamely for fillies and mares over 1 1/8 miles on turf will have an outstanding field. The probables include Dress to Thrill, the winner of the Matriarch Stakes last November; Garden in the Rain, who placed in stakes at Santa Anita; Dublino, the winner of the Wilshire Handicap on April 27; and three horses trained by Bobby Frankel - Megahertz, Miss Terrible, and Tates Creek.

De Seroux said that Turtle Bow, who was sixth in the Wilshire, will pass the Gamely in favor of the Yerba Buena Handicap at Bay Meadows on May 24.

The Shoemaker is one of the top turf races of the year for the division. The race will likely include Century City, last year's winner Ladies Din, Medecis, Redattore, Special Ring, Touch of the Blues, and War Zone.

Special Ring has not started since August due to injury, and an illness has kept Redattore off the track since he won the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in early March.

The Laz Barrera Stakes is for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs. The candidates include Blazonry, Excessivepleasure, King Robyn, Martinblestme, Ministers Wild Cat, Our Bobby V., and Roll Hennessy Roll.

Derby also-rans work out

Eye of the Tiger and Ten Most Wanted, who finished fifth and ninth, respectively, in the Kentucky Derby on May 3, worked on Thursday in preparation for June stakes.

Eye of the Tiger went a half-mile in 48.40 seconds. Second in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland last month, Eye of the Tiger is expected to start in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds here on June 22.

Ten Most Wanted, the winner of the Illinois Derby last month, worked a half-mile in 48.60 seconds, his first workout since the Kentucky Derby. Ten Most Wanted is preparing for the Belmont Stakes on June 7.

Ten Most Wanted had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby. He was bumped at the start and raced wide for much of the race. "He's much better than that performance," said Aimee Dollase, assistant trainer to her father, Wally.

Acquiring Europeans in vogue

With major stakes for 3-year-old turf horses on the horizon in Southern California, many owners and trainers are actively pursing prospects in Europe. In recent weeks, Fabulous Ransom, a colt, has been acquired by Arnold Zetcher. Ron McAnally will train.

De Seroux said that Liska, a filly, will join her stable in coming weeks.

Liska finished third in the Prix Vanteaux at Longchamp, France, on April 27 and is being pointed for the $750,000 American Oaks on July 5.

Big fields for Sunday's pick six

Field sizes have been a problem at Hollywood Park in recent meetings, but there is little short about Sunday's nine-race program.

There are 102 horses entered, with three races that have oversubscribed fields. The tradeoff is a lack of quality. Four of the races are for maidens, including two divisions for claimers over 5 1/2 furlongs.

The pick six covers the fourth through ninth races, with the shortest fields during the bet having nine entrants, an optional claimer over 1 1/4 miles on turf and the Proctor Stakes for 2-year-olds over five furlongs.

* Trainer Doug O'Neill unveiled a promising 2-year-old filly on Thursday when Hot Weekend won her debut. Ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, Hot Weekend led throughout, scoring by three lengths over Cherish Destiny, who is also trained by O'Neill. Hot Weekend ran 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.33 seconds, the fastest clocking of the meeting at the distance.