10/15/2003 11:00PM

Big guns have scared off the competition


ARCADIA, Calif. - With the likes of Azeri, Got Koko, Sightseek, and Take Charge Lady pointing to the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, the connections of few others were willing to go in the race. There were only eight pre-entered in the Distaff, making it a cinch to have the shortest field of the eight World Thoroughbred Championship races on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

That is nothing new for the Distaff. In 11 of its previous 19 runnings, the Distaff has had eight runners or fewer.

Azeri, whose victory in last year's Distaff clinched for her the 2002 Horse of the Year title, also was pre-entered in the $4 million Classic, but the Distaff is her first choice.

Azeri most recently crossed the wire third and was moved up to second in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap, which was won by Got Koko here on Sept. 28. Elloluv, who finished second in that race but was disqualified to fourth, and the horse she was deemed to have fouled, Adoration, both had key workouts Thursday morning.

Elloluv trains regularly at Hollywood Park, where trainer Craig Dollase is based. She worked six furlongs there in 1:13, the best time of seven at the distance. Her Distaff rider, Corey Nakatani, was aboard.

"She finished the last quarter in 23 and change," Dollase said from Hollywood Park.

The Lady's Secret was the first start for Elloluv since she finished fourth in the Kentucky Oaks May 2. Dollase said he gave Elloluv a break because the Oaks "really flattened her out."

"We just decided to let her tell us when she was ready," Dollase said. "Now we've got a good, fresh filly, and she's peaking at the right time. There's no indication that last race took too much out of her. In fact, she gained some weight."

Dollase said Elloluv would be sent by van from Hollywood Park to Santa Anita on Monday, and would likely have "a little blow out" on Tuesday morning.

Here at Santa Anita, Adoration turned in a moderate seven-furlong work under jockey Patrick Valenzuela. She went off slowly, then finished under a bit of urging late. Her official time was recorded as 1:26.

David Hofmans, who trains Adoration, said he wanted Adoration to start off easily, in order to teach her to relax.

"That was the plan," Hofmans said. "We want her finishing. She's more keen in the morning. We're trying to get her to relax the first part. It looks like we'll be the speed of the race. I don't want Patrick fighting her like last time."

Adoration was making only her second start since January when she competed in the Lady's Secret. She was part of the pace until late in the stretch, when Valenzuela was forced to check her while in traffic.

Hofmans conceded that Adoration would be a longshot, and that a major reason why she is running is that this year's Breeders' Cup is at Santa Anita, where Adoration is based.

"We're running because we're home," Hofmans said. "She likes the track, so we'll give it a shot."

This year's Distaff seems certain to decide the Eclipse Award for champion older filly or mare, and a victory by any of the 3-year-old fillies - Buy the Sport, Elloluv, or Lady Tak - could bring that horse a divisional championship.