11/04/2004 12:00AM

Azoom star of program - if he runs


HOUSTON - Probable champion juvenile Azoom and 2003 co-world champion Oak Tree Special are the marquee names on MBNA America Championship night Saturday at Sam Houston Race Park, where five Grade 1 races will be run.

Azoom is entered in the Grade 1, $150,000 Ford Challenge Championship, but owner Enrique Carrion and trainer Frank Cavazos have yet to make a final decision on whether Azoom will compete.

Oak Tree Special is making his first 2004 appearance in a Grade 1 stakes in the $300,000 MBNA America Challenge Championship after winning four Grade 1 derbies during his 2003 championship campaign.

The other three Grade 1 races among the eight stakes offered are the $175,000 Bayer Legend Derby Challenge Championship, the $100,000 John Deere Distaff Challenge Championship, and $100,000 MD Barns Distance Challenge Championship. The 10-race program begins at 7 p.m. central.

Azoom's possible run in the Ford Challenge Championship has been a popular topic since he won the Grade 1, $1 million Texas Classic Futurity last Friday night at Sam Houston Race Park. Because he would be returning to action in just eight days, Azoom was inspected by Dr. Tommy Hayes on Monday and was given a clean bill of health, according to Cavazos.

"We're taking it day to day," said Cavazos. "He's eating well and doing well, so we'll see how it goes."

Azoom has had a sensational 2-year-old campaign and is widely considered the favorite to win the 2004 champion 2-year-old colt title. He started his career in Mexico this spring with 4 wins from 5 starts, capped by the victory in the Ford Mexico Juvenile Challenge, which earned him a berth in the Ford Challenge Championship.

After moving to Sam Houston, Azoom won 7 of 8 starts, with his only defeat a close second in the Grade 2 TQHA Sires Cup Futurity. Since that defeat he has Grade 1 futurity wins in the TQHA Sale Futurity, the Sam Houston Futurity, and the Texas Classic Futurity. He has also been the fastest qualifier to each of the four futurities in which he has raced at Sam Houston.

If Azoom runs, he will be a short-priced favorite. If he passes the Ford Challenge Championship, the favorite's role should fall to Grade 1 Remington Park Futurity winner Eye Yin You. Trained by Hall of Famer Jack Brooks, Eye Yin You has 4 wins from 7 starts, including a victory in the Grade 3 New Mexico Juvenile Challenge.

Oak Tree Special qualified for the MBNA America Challenge Championship with a win in the Grade 2 East Challenge Championship at Delta Downs on Aug. 15. He then finished sixth in the Grade 2 Sam Houston Classic on Sept. 4, his most recent start.

Also in the MBNA America Challenge Championship field are Oklahoma Challenge Championship winner Special Task Force, Texas Challenge Championship winner Valors Gold, and Sky Lane Pie, winner of two stakes at Los Alamitos this year.

Bayer Legend Derby Challenge

A New Hero, from the barn of two-time national champion trainer Paul Jones, will be after his third consecutive win when he meets Redman Running in the Bayer Legend Derby Challenge Championship.

This summer at Ruidoso Downs, A New Hero was the fastest qualifier to the Grade 1 Ruidoso Derby, in which he finished fifth as the 6-5 favorite. In his two most recent starts, both at Los Alamitos, he won his trial to the California Derby Challenge and the finals.

Redman Running will be making his first start outside of Oklahoma. He has won 10 of 16 career starts. He comes off a win in the Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby Challenge.

John Deere Distaff Challenge

Prima LD is after her second Challenge Championship victory in the John Deere Distaff Challenge. She won the 2003 Bayer Legend Derby Challenge Championship.

Prima LD started her career in Mexico before making her United States debut in the Derby Challenge Championship at Los Alamitos, in which she raced to a nose win.

She has taken on the top mares at Los Alamitos in her three starts this year, scoring a win over Mini Rock in the California Distaff Challenge and finishing a head behind Mini Rock in the Grade 1 Mildred Vessels Handicap.

Katies Sign comes into the Distaff Challenge Championship after winning the Northwest Distaff Challenge Championship and the Canadian Distaff Challenge Championship.

MD Barns Distance Challenge

Seek and Destroy will use his early speed from post 6 against seven other consistent winners in the 870-yard MD Barns Distance Challenge.

Seek and Destroy has 4 wins and 2 seconds in stakes races in his last 6 starts. Those second-place efforts each came at Sam Houston, in the Texas Distance Challenge and the Governor's Cup Marathon.

This year, the seven horses facing Seek and Destroy have combined for 18 wins and 33 top-three finishes from 40 starts.