02/05/2003 12:00AM

Azeri's return at Oaklawn?


ARCADIA, Calif. - Azeri may make her 2003 debut in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5, a race she won in 2002 en route to being named Horse of the Year, trainer Laura de Seroux said on Wednesday.

On Monday, the 5-year-old Azeri was withdrawn from a planned dispersal of the racehorses owned by Allen Paulson Living Trust on March 4 after the beneficiaries of the Trust reached a settlement regarding the future of Azeri and 19 other horses.

The settlement is subject to court approval, which could take 30 days to complete, according to trustee Michael Paulson. Until then, Azeri will be restricted to light training at San Luis Rey Downs, just as she was before the settlement was announced on Monday.

But de Seroux said Azeri will not take long to reach race fitness, allowing her to tentatively plan for a start in the Apple Blossom, which is run over 1 1/16 miles.

The $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita over 1 1/8 miles on March 9 will arrive too soon, de Seroux said.

"If we were cleared by the court tomorrow, we could do it," she said of the Santa Margarita. "I'd probably have to wait for the Apple Blossom. I'm sure I can make the Apple Blossom. It would feel better going 1 1/16 miles than 1 1/8 miles."

Despite Azeri being in light training and galloping only about 1 1/4 miles a day, de Seroux said that the mare has retained the fitness from a 2002 campaign that included eight wins in nine starts, and seven consecutive stakes wins.

"She looks dead fit to my eye," she said. "Looking at her, she looks like she's ready to run, even though I know she's not. She looks fit. That's scary."

By starting in the Apple Blossom, Azeri could return to Southern California for starts at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. There is a chance she will compete against males this year, though de Seroux said that is not in the short-term plans.

"I want races under her belt before we think about that," she said.

Puxa Saco in Las Virgenes for a reason

By default, Puxa Saco is starting in Sunday's $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita, the first Grade 1 of the year for 3-year-old fillies.

"There's nothing else to do except wait until the end of March, and I don't want to do that," trainer Jenine Sahadi said.

A winner of two sprint stakes last fall - the Anoakia at Santa Anita and the Moccasin at Hollywood Park - Puxa Saco enters the Las Virgenes Stakes after a fourth in the seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes on Jan. 20.

Sent off as the favorite in that race, Puxa Saco went from fifth on the backstretch to disputing the lead on the turn before fading through the stretch.

"In my mind, it was a bit of a premature move, but that's racing," Sahadi said. "I threw the race out."

The one-mile Las Virgenes is expected to draw a strong field. Elloluv, the winner of the Hollywood Starlet and Santa Ynez Stakes, will face Composure, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Favola, Maddie's Charm, and Watching You will also start.

The race will be the first in which Puxa Saco starts at a mile or farther since she was third in the Brave Raj Stakes over a mile and 70 yards at Calder last September. Mike Smith retains the mount on Puxa Saco for the Las Virgenes, which will determine whether the filly continues in routes or reverts to sprints.

"She does have something to prove at the distance and against those horses," Sahadi said.

Sea Jewel out until summer

Sea Jewel, the runner-up in the Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 5, recently underwent surgery to have a bone chip removed from a knee, trainer John Shirreffs said. Sea Jewel will be out of training for three months.

The 3-year-old Sea Jewel has appeared in four stakes since winning a maiden race at Del Mar last July, finishing third in the Oak Leaf Stakes and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Del Mar Debutante.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Sea Jewel underwent surgery following the Santa Ysabel and is resting at a farm in Bradbury, Shirreffs said. She is expected to return to racing by the summer.

Little Treasure targets Buena Vista

Little Treasure, the winner of the Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington Park last September, worked six furlongs in 1:13.20 on turf on Wednesday. De Seroux said the 4-year-old Little Treasure is being pointed to the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap over a mile on turf on Feb. 17.

The same race is in the plans for Sentimental Value, the winner of a division of the Ramser Handicap last October. Trained by Kristin Mulhall, Sentimental Value worked seven furlongs in turf in 1:28 on Wednesday.

Captain Squire, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Sprint on Jan. 25, breezed a half-mile in 49.20 under a strong hold from jockey Alex Solis. Trainer Jeff Mullins is pointing Captain Squire to the $2 million Golden Shaheen over a straightaway six furlongs in Dubai on March 29.

Crackup back on track after bleeding

Crackup, the winner of the California Cup Juvenile and Great State Challenge Juvenile last year, will resume workouts next week after a break caused by a bleeding incident in the Santa Catalina Stakes on Jan. 18.

Trained by Rafael Becerra, Crackup will be pointed for the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds at Hollywood Park on April 26, with a prep race expected in advance.

"He may breeze next week," Becerra said. "He needed a little time after that last race, but he's coming back."