08/31/2008 11:00PM

Azul Leon's camp sticks with Norfolk plan


DEL MAR, Calif. - In the end, trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Joseph LaCombe decided to stick with the original plan. They ignored the temptation of a Grade 1 race and bypassed the Del Mar Futurity on Wednesday with Azul Leon in order to point for the Grade 1, $250,000 Norfolk Stakes on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Azul Leon has won all three of his starts, including, by disqualification, the Best Pal Stakes, the major prep for the Futurity. But O'Neill said the main goal is the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita, and he wants Azul Leon to race just once between now and then. Azul Leon stayed sharp with a half-mile work in 48.80 seconds at Del Mar on Sunday.

"The LaCombe family and I kind of had a plan at the beginning of the year of good spacing leading up to the big dance if he was that good, and he is that good," O'Neill said Monday morning from Hollywood Park. "And I've still got action with the LaCombes, as well as Vinery."

LaCombe owns Escalon, and Vinery Stables is a partner in Wild Wild Posse, the two colts who will represent O'Neill in the Futurity.

Lobo out to salvage a trying summer

This has been a long summer for trainer Paulo Lobo, who has yet to find the winner's circle at Del Mar. But he appears to have an excellent chance to break his uncharacteristic cold streak in Wednesday's first race, the first division of the Daisycutter Handicap, with the Brazilian filly Eletro Nuclear, who won Group 2 and Group 3 stakes races in her native land before finishing second in a Group 1 race in Argentina.

"Let's see if I can save the meeting," Lobo said.

This will be the United States debut for Eletro Nuclear, who has never finished worse than second in nine starts. She has not raced since Dec. 15, when she was second of 19 in a five-furlong turf sprint against males.

"I was there. It was the same day as the Carlos Pellegrini," Lobo said, referring to South America's premier race for older horses. "Nineteen horses, boys and girls, she ran very nice. You never know how they stack up here, but she is a very nice filly."

Lobo also said that Gayego, the Arkansas Derby winner, is progressing toward his first start since May. He was freshened after running in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"He has had two half-mile workouts here," Lobo said. "He's doing very well. After the Preakness, we did a nuclear scan. He was fine. But we decided to give him a rest."

Lobo said he is pointing Gayego to the $100,000 Damascus Stakes, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds to be run on the Breeders' Cup undercard Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Showdown in Lady's Secret?

The best race at this year's Breeders' Cup could very well be the Ladies' Classic - formerly the Distaff. A sneak preview of that Oct. 24 race could take place 27 days earlier. The unbeaten Zenyatta is pointing to the Grade 1, $250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes on Sept. 27, and on Monday, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said that would be the next start for Hystericalady, too.

"I think it makes the most sense" as a prep for the Breeders' Cup, Hollendorfer said.

Hystericalady is training at Golden Gate Fields, where she returned following her recent victory in the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth.

"She really gets a hold of that track back there," Hollendorfer said.

Hystericalady was a narrow loser in last year's BC Distaff to Ginger Punch, who is expected to also compete in this year's Breeders' Cup.

Benavidez-Crouse hearings set

Larry Benavidez, the assistant trainer to John Sadler, and owner Ron Crouse - who got into a tussle after a race last month at Del Mar - have been ordered to appear before the stewards at Fairplex Park on Sept. 13.

Benavidez said he also has filed battery charges against Crouse in San Diego County Superior Court.

Both men have been involved in other recent incidents.

Crouse on Saturday was fined $200 by Del Mar's stewards for disobedience to security officers and violation of parking regulations stemming from a dispute in the stable area earlier this meet.

On Sunday in the front side racing office, Benavidez picked up some mementos from the victories of Whatsthescript in the Del Mar Mile and Dearest Trickski in the Rancho Bernardo Handicap, both Win and You're In races for the Breeders' Cup. When doing so, Benavidez said, "I guess it pays to cheat," in reference to the controversy surrounding the Sadler barn regarding anabolic steroid use this summer.

Benavidez said he said it sarcastically. "After a while of hearing everything, you just get sick of it," he said. "I was just joking."

But another trainer in the office at the time, Christopher Paasch, was furious.

"These are major races that affect the Breeders' Cup, as well as breeding value, and to walk around and rub our noses in it, I'm absolutely livid," Paasch said. "It's called the power of the needle. And the board won't do something to stop it, now."

To date, Sadler has not been charged with any violations by the California Horse Racing Board regarding steroid use. Beginning Thursday, violations for anabolic steroids are subject to fines and suspensions for a trainer, and loss of purse to the owner.

Georgie Boy works fast

Georgie Boy, last year's Del Mar Futurity winner, is back in training, preparing for his first start since going to the sidelines earlier this year. On Saturday at Del Mar, he zipped three furlongs in 34.60 seconds, the fastest time of seven at the distance.

"He went a little too fast," said his trainer, Kathy Walsh.

Walsh said the drill was the second for Georgie Boy since he returned to training. She said Georgie Boy would have his next work at Santa Anita, which reopened on Saturday with its newly constructed Pro-Ride surface.