12/18/2008 12:00AM

Azul Leon still unproven at two turns

Benoit & Associates
Doug O'Neill sends out the two-time stakes winner Azul Leon (above with Rafael Bejarano) and the maiden Mark S the Cooler in the $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Before Azul Leon ever ran this past spring, the word was out that he was one of the most precocious 2-year-olds on the circuit. And though he could not handle the likes of Midshipman and Street Hero in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Norfolk Stakes this fall, he has had a productive first season, one that trainer Doug O'Neill hopes ends on an up note on Saturday in the Grade 1, $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park.

Azul Leon, a two-time stakes winner, is one of two runners O'Neill will run in the Futurity, along with the maiden Mark S the Cooler. He also is housing European import Axel Foley, who will race in the Futurity for British trainer John Best.

O'Neill is marking time with Square Eddie, right now his best 2-year-old, based on his runner-up finish in the BC Juvenile. Square Eddie is awaiting the Grade 3, $100,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 17.

The road to the 2009 Kentucky Derby might not lead through O'Neill's barn, but it's a good place to start.

Azul Leon drew the rail, Axel Foley landed post 4, and Mark S the Cooler was stuck in the outside post when 12 horses were entered on Wednesday in the CashCall Futurity. Trainer Dan Hendricks entered Mr. Rod, who wound up in post 11.

Azul Leon comes off a second-place finish in the seven-furlong Hollywood Prevue on Nov. 23. In three starts at this track, he has finished first twice, including in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship, and second once. He has never finished worse than second in four sprint races. Yet his two races around two turns resulted in his worst finishes. The CashCall Futurity, like the Norfolk and the BC Juvenile, is at 1 1/16 miles.

"Even though he hasn't proved it in the afternoon, in the morning it doesn't seem like two turns would be a hindrance," O'Neill said. "He doesn't train like it would be a problem. But until you do it with the money down, no one will believe you."

Axel Foley won once in two starts on synthetic surfaces in Britain. Martin Smith, Best's assistant, said Axel Foley came here with a "for-sale" sign around his neck.

"John is very much a commercial trainer," Smith said. "He won't buy anything older than a yearling, and he looks to develop horses and then sell them."

Smith said six different people had come by to look at Axel Foley this week, but "we haven't received any solid offers yet. We're not panicking if we don't sell him before the race. We have full confidence in the horse."