10/20/2005 11:00PM

BC Turf: Azamour sharp, his injuries behind him


With two minor injuries behind him, Azamour is back at peak condition in time for Saturday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park, according to Irish trainer John Oxx.

The latest evidence came on Friday when Azamour worked seven furlongs at The Curragh in Ireland, Oxx said. It was the 4-year-old's last major exercise before leaving for New York on Sunday.

"He's been going nicely in his work," Oxx said in a telephone interview. "He did his last bit of routine fast work and it went well."

Unlike most American trainers, who do not travel without a stopwatch, Oxx did not time the workout. "We don't time them because the ground varies so much," he said. "Some are level, some are uphill."

Since finishing fifth in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 10, Azamour has overcome a pulled muscle in his hind end and a foot abscess to return to top condition, Oxx said.

The injuries kept him out of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 2, but allowed Oxx to point the 4-year-old colt to a start in the BC Turf.

Owned by the Aga Khan, Azamour has won 6 of 11 starts. He was outstanding in England during the summer, winning the Prince of Wales's Stakes and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

In the Irish Champion Stakes, Azamour was third with a furlong remaining and never got closer, losing by two lengths to Oratorio, a pre-entrant to the BC Classic.

"He pulled a muscle and wasn't right," Oxx said of Azamour. "He slipped at some stage around the bend. He wasn't able to push himself.

"We're hopeful he won't have a recurrence. He actually recovered fairly quickly from that.

"We thought he would be on course for the Arc, but he had a foot abscess that took two weeks to resolve. It may have been a blessing to not rush him a little bit. The ground came up soft for the Arc. It was probably just as well that we missed it."

Azamour is one of six European-based runners pre-entered for the BC Turf. A strong group, they include Bago, Shirocco, and Motivator, the third- through fifth-place finishers in the Arc; Alkaased, a major stakes winner in France in June; and Ace, who was third in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 1. Motivator won the English Derby in June.

"I think they are a good team of horses," Oxx said. "Bago ran a good race in the Arc. Motivator was probably a little disappointing in the Arc. Shirocco is a fresh horse. He's improved a lot and he could improve a lot. He would like soft ground. Alkaased is a good horse. He'll be better suited to 1 1/2 miles."

Aside from the competition, Oxx is worried about the potential for wet weather for Azamour.

"He doesn't particularly like soft ground," he said. "We're hoping for a dry week. He's a very good horse and has been very consistent all his life. He's a courageous horse, and he's run one good one after another. His only disappointment was his last start."

Oxx has a perfect record in the Breeders' Cup, having won the 1995 Mile with Ridgewood Pearl at Belmont Park with his lone starter.

* Turf longshot Laura's Lucky Boy worked seven furlongs Friday on a firm Santa Anita turf course in 1:28, breezing. It was the fastest of two works at the distance.