10/17/2003 11:00PM

Azeri's future in doubt

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Azeri, shown with Brian Eide, put in a fast workout at San Luis Rey Downs Friday, but has her trainer, Laura de Seroux, concerned.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Perfect Drift, a leading contender for Horse of the Year, and Ten Most Wanted, one of Perfect Drift's main rivals in the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita, both had important workouts Saturday. But the biggest development concerned the 2002 Horse of the Year, Azeri, whose obstinate behavior before her fast workout Friday at San Luis Rey Downs left trainer Laura de Seroux pondering the mare's future one day later.

De Seroux said she wanted to discuss Azeri's future with Michael Paulson, who manages the Allen Paulson Living Trust, which owns Azeri. Paulson is on a cruise, and was not expected to be on shore until Sunday night.

According to de Seroux, Azeri "came out of the work in good shape, and she ate her dinner, but I'm concerned about her reluctant behavior.

"I'm thinking about it very seriously. She worked fast. It was effortless. But I've given a lot of thought to her behavior, because it's such a departure from the norm. She's done it her last three works. That can't be ignored."

Azeri's 11-race winning streak was snapped in her last start, the Sept. 28 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap here at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. She bled in the race, and had an elevated white cell count. The illness was treated with antibiotics, and Azeri has come back to post two fast drills in the past week and a half.

She was pre-entered in both the Classic and the Distaff for this year's Breeders' Cup, but the Distaff has always been her intended target. That, apparently, is now in jeopardy and her racing career could be, also. Azeri, now age 5, is scheduled to be sent to the breeding shed next spring.

If Azeri does pull out of the Distaff, that would leave a field of seven, with Sightseek the strong favorite.

In other Distaff developments Saturday, Take Charge Lady worked five furlongs in 59.40 seconds at Churchill Downs, and John Velazquez was named as the rider for longshot Buy the Sport.

Both Perfect Drift and Ten Most Wanted, two top contenders for the Classic, completed their serious training with sharp drills.

Perfect Drift, who could secure Horse of the Year with a victory, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 over a fast track at the Trackside training facility in Louisville, Ky. Much of the work, according to a Churchill Downs publicity release, was obscured by heavy fog.

"He looked good going off and looked strong finishing," said trainer Murray Johnson. "He was just perfect."

Perfect Drift was ridden in his work by jockey Joe Deegan, his regular work rider. Gary Stevens has the mount in the Classic.

"I thought he worked super," Deegan said. "He went off nice. I actually was planning on going a little bit slower, but I had a real good hold of him down the backside, and at the eighth pole I just bent over him and he scooted that last eighth of a mile. He really got into it, so he's mentally and physically where he needs to be."

Perfect Drift is scheduled to have his usual strong mid-week gallop on Wednesday, then will fly to California on Thursday.

At Hollywood Park, Ten Most Wanted worked five furlongs in 1:00, the fourth-best time of 41 at the distance. "He broke off two and a half lengths behind a workmate and they finished together," said Wally Dollase, who trains and is a co-owner of Ten Most Wanted. "It was very nice. Perfect."

Dollase said Ten Most Wanted would be sent by van to Santa Anita on Thursday.

Tagg postpones Funny Cide's work

At Belmont Park, trainer Barclay Tagg postponed Funny Cide's scheduled six-furlong workout Saturday because the training track was wet from overnight rains. Tagg said he planned to work Funny Cide, who is pointing to the Classic, on Sunday.

Instead, Funny Cide walked and cantered twice around Belmont Park's 1 1/2-mile main track under exercise rider Robin Smullen. On Friday, Funny Cide walked and cantered once around the Belmont main track. Tagg said it's not ideal to push the work back one day, but it's also not a big deal.

"He's been training good and he's plenty fit," Tagg said. "You got to get the horse to the race and if you cripple him you can't get him to the race. It won't hurt him to work [Sunday]. He went a mile last Sunday; he'll have seven days between breezes."

Funny Cide, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, has not run since finishing third in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3. He was entered in the Travers on Aug. 23, but scratched the day before the race due to mucus in his trachea. He was also found to have a fever and a high white blood count following the Haskell.

Funny Cide has been on a regular training schedule since September and has worked every six days since Sept. 12. On Oct. 12, he worked a mile in 1:38.62 over the training track.

- David Grening

Tiger Hunt works for Juvenile

Cradle Stakes winner Tiger Hunt worked five furlongs in 1:01 Saturday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Tiger Hunt worked in company with the stakes-winning Quest Star, starting 1 1/2 lengths behind Quest Star and finishing on even terms

Pat Day, who will ride Tiger Hunt in the Juvenile, was aboard for the work, which was conducted over a fast main track.

"He was very impressed with him, very impressed with his stride, which is indicative of why this horse is better at longer distances," Walden said. "He is very professional for a 2-year-old, which I think plays to his advantage in a big field."

Tiger Hunt finished second behind Eurosilver in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 4. It was not until Monday that Walden and the owners, Team Valor Stables, decided to go into the Juvenile, partly because of the defections of Eurosilver and stakes winners Ruler's Court, Birdstone, and Silver Wagon.

- David Grening

Halfbridled works slow six furlongs

At Santa Anita, a slow breeze by Halfbridled on Saturday did not worry trainer Richard Mandella.

Unbeaten and untested after three races, Halfbridled was timed in 1:16.60 for six furlongs. Of the nine recorded workouts at the distance, her time was the slowest.

"We wanted it slow," Mandella said. "I didn't want her to do too much. I don't need that right now. I want her quiet."

Halfbridled will probably be the shortest price in the Breeders' Cup races. She has won two stakes, the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante by five lengths and the 1 1/16-mile Oak Leaf Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths. She won a maiden race over 5 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar on July 27 by 4 1/2 lengths.

"I want to keep her to what we've taught her," he said. "I want to keep it simple."

- Steve Andersen

Designed for Luck flashes speed

Designed for Luck may have a home turf advantage when he starts in the Breeders' Cup Mile. He ran the best race of his career in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 5, his second stakes win since coming back from a career-threatening hock injury.

On Saturday, the gelding's speed was on display with a five-furlong workout on the main track in 58.60 seconds.

His trainer, Vladimir Cerin, said he is impressed with Designed for Luck's turn of foot.

"When you ask him, he pulls away in two jumps," Cerin said. "He does what you want to do. I'm happy with that as long as he keeps going as he's going."

Designed for Luck will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, the leading rider at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.

Cerin says that Designed for Luck can be eager during routine gallops

"He keeps himself fit and finishes his gallops at just under a two-minute clip," he said, referring to the typical one-mile time.

Islington, a top contender for the Filly and Mare Turf, arrived from England late Friday.

Third in the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington Park, Islington won the Yorkshire Oaks in England in August and was third in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 6. She finished a neck behind High Chaparral and Falbrav, who are being pointed for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

- Steve Andersen

O'Brien sending six to Breeders' Cup

Old Deuteronomy was not expected to board the charter flight that departs Ireland on Sunday with the Coolmore horses. His defection from the Juvenile paves the way for longshot Mambo Train to draw into the race from off the also-eligible list.

The Coolmore flight will now have six passengers from trainer Aidan O'Brien's barn. They are High Chaparral (Turf), Yesterday and L'Andresse (Filly and Mare Turf), Grand Reward (Juvenile), Statue of Liberty (Mile), and Hold That Tiger (Classic).

- Mike Welsch