04/25/2004 11:00PM

Baffert likes both his Oaks fillies


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Two starters are better than one, and doesn't Bob Baffert know it. Baffert will run Class Above and Victory U. .S. A. in the 130th Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs, and while Victory U. S. A. will be among the core group of favorites for the Grade 1 race, Baffert also was excited about the way that Class Above, a likely longshot, tuned up for the race by working a half-mile here Monday in 47.40 seconds.

"She worked awesome," said Baffert.

Class Above, owned by Padua Stables, has been alternately spectacular and disappointing, sandwiching dominating wins in the Kentucky Cup and Bourbonette Stakes around seventh-place finishes in the Breeders' Cup and Las Virgenes, both at Santa Anita. Baffert said he believes Class Above will fare better here than in her California races.

Meanwhile, Baffert said Victory U. S. A., a surprisingly easy 8 1/4-length winner over divisional champion Halfbridled in the April 8 Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland for owner Tom VanMeter, also is coming up to the race in terrific order.

"Oh, she's just a horse," he teased. "Actually, she'll have to run another big one Friday to beat Halfbridled. I think Halfbridled just hated Keeneland. She's really a great filly, and I don't think [Richard] Mandella would run her if she wasn't doing real well."

Halfbridled, with Alex Solis to ride, most likely will be the favorite in the $500,000 Oaks, with another half-dozen 3-year-old fillies drawing solid play: Victory U. S. A. (Pat Day), Madcap Escapade (Jerry Bailey), Ashado (John Velazquez), House of Fortune (Shane Sellers), A.P. Adventure (Mike Smith), and Silent Sighs (David Flores).

In other Oaks developments, Last Song worked five furlongs Sunday in 1:00.20.

"Our filly will run big," trainer Carl Nafzger said.

A field of 11 remains firm for the Oaks, although Stellar Jayne, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, might make it 12. Entries for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks were to be drawn Tuesday.

Heroes from 1979 together again

Bud Delp and Ronnie Franklin, the trainer-jockey team that captured the 1979 Kentucky Derby with Spectacular Bid, were here Sunday from Maryland for autograph and interview sessions and a special winner's circle presentation.

Twenty-five years after their memorable win, Delp is still talking about the greatness of Spectacular Bid, while Franklin seems deeply humbled by the well-publicized drug and alcohol problems that have kept him from riding races for more than a decade now.

Franklin, who was 19 when he rode Spectacular Bid to a 3 3/4-length victory as the last winning odds-on Derby favorite, said he has been clean and sober for more than two years.

"I was ashamed to tell people [about the Derby] because of the way I messed up my career," he said. "But now that I've put it down, I have a clear head again."

Delp, who is still an active trainer, said he and Franklin "talked about old times on the plane ride here. He said, 'I'd like to do that again,' and I said, 'I'd like to do it, too.' The three years I spent with Bid were the greatest years of my life in racing."

McLaughlin goes from fan to foe

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who spent many years as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas, couldn't help but call his mentor after Azeri won last month's Apple Blossom Handicap. Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, was making her first start for Lukas.

"I called to congratulate him because I knew [the media] had their pencils sharpened to kill him if she didn't run well," McLaughlin said. "I thought he did a brilliant job getting her ready to perform such a brilliant race. She's a superstar filly and they don't come around very often. I have a lot of respect for the filly and Wayne."

Saturday, McLaughlin will try to upend his former boss when he sends out Randaroo against Azeri in the Grade 1, $250,000 Humana Distaff. Randaroo has won five of her last six starts, including the Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct in her last start. She is 3 for 4 at the Humana Distaff distance of seven furlongs, while Azeri has never raced at the distance.

"We've been pointing to this for quite some time," McLaughlin said. "We're trying to win a Grade 1 with her, we're ready to go. I wish Azeri was running Friday in the [Louisville] Breeders' Cup, but it is what it is."

Randaroo, owned by Joe Allen, worked four furlongs in 49.14 seconds Sunday at Belmont Park. She is expected to ship to Louisville on Wednesday.

Azeri will be the starting highweight at 125 pounds. Randaroo will carry 121, including John Velazquez, who was not aboard for her last race. Others expected to run include Bear Fan (116), Mayo on the Side (114), Halory Leigh (110), and Keiai Sakura (110).

Ender's Sister tops La Troienne

A field of seven 3-year-old fillies, led by Ender's Sister and Friendly Michelle, was entered Monday for the $100,000 La Troienne Stakes, one of two stakes to be run here Thursday.

Ender's Sister, trained by Rusty Arnold, enters the seven-furlong La Troienne on a four-race win streak, the latest coming in the March 14 Tampa Bay Oaks. Friendly Michelle, trained by Bob Baffert, won the March 21 Santa Paula Stakes in her latest start.

The rest of the field for the Grade 3 La Troienne: Pick of the Pack, Saltwater Runner, Katestormedthebird, Bohemian Lady, and Fond.

Also on Thursday, a field of 11 filly and mare turf sprinters, headed by Dyna Da Wyna, was entered in the $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes.

Congaree ready to run

Congaree, scratched from the April 10 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at Keeneland after a bout with colic, figures as a heavy favorite Saturday when he will carry high weight of 123 pounds in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap.

Baffert said he is looking forward to running Congaree at the seven-furlong distance of the CD Cap, which is expected to get a field of about nine or 10. The other probables include McCann's Mojave, 117 pounds, and Publication, 116.

- additional reporting by David Grening