08/21/2003 11:00PM

California owners question Lady's Secret purse raise


DEL MAR, Calif. - A proposal from the Oak Tree Racing Association to raise the purse of the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap has met with resistance from members of the Thoroughbred Owners of California board of directors.

Officials with Oak Tree, which conducts the fall meeting at Santa Anita, want to increase the purse of the Sept. 28 Lady's Secret from $200,000 to $300,000, in an effort to ensure that Horse of the Year Azeri runs in the Grade 2 race.

John Van de Kamp, the president of the TOC, said his organization has concerns over the plan.

"There is the practical issue of what if she doesn't run," said Van de Kamp. "Our board raised some questions. The board does respect the horse and how wonderful she is and how important it is to have stars running."

Half of the increase would come from the Breeders' Cup, according to Sherwood Chillingworth, the executive vice president of Oak Tree. The Breeders' Cup is already contributing $50,000 to the $200,000 purse.

The Lady's Secret, run over 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares, is one of four stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 28, a day featuring four preps to the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

"Having Azeri is so important for California racing and preview day," said Chillingworth.

Last year, Azeri won the Lady's Secret at Oak Tree and Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park. She has won 11 consecutive races.

Trainer Laura de Seroux said the Lady's Secret is one of several races that owner Michael Paulson is considering for Azeri's next start. The potential races include two races for fillies and mares at Belmont Park - the $300,000 Ruffian Handicap on Sept. 13 and the $750,000 Beldame on Oct. 4.

Azeri has never raced at Belmont Park and has never traveled farther from California than Arlington Park.