06/16/2002 11:00PM

Came Home ready to roll in Affirmed

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Came Home is ready to send jockey Chris McCarron into retirement as a winner in Sunday's $100,000 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park, the colt's connections said over the weekend.

Unraced since finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, has rebounded from that setback and trained well in recent weeks, according to his trainer, Paco Gonzalez. "He's come back in very good shape," Gonzalez said.

McCarron is the only jockey to ride Came Home in a career that includes six wins in eight starts and earnings of $871,440. He also frequently works the colt.

During the Santa Anita meeting earlier this year, Came Home was unbeaten in three stakes - the San Vicente, San Rafael and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. In the Kentucky Derby, Came Home was within 2 1/2 lengths of War Emblem at the quarter pole, but faded through the stretch to finish 10 lengths behind the upset winner.

The overall record will make Came Home a heavy favorite in the Affirmed Handicap, where he will carry topweight of 124 pounds.

The weight assignment surprised co-owner John Toffan. "That's ridiculous," he said. He later added that Came Home "has come back to where he was before," a reference to the colt's wintertime form.

There will also be a lot of sentimental money on McCarron, a mainstay on the California circuit since 1978.

Last weekend, McCarron announced he was retiring after Sunday's program. The final ride of his career may be aboard Came Home, depending on where the race is positioned on the program.

"I hope we run a big race for Chris," said co-owner Trudy McCaffery.

Came Home is the only Grade 1 stakes winner among the probables for the Affirmed, which is run over 1 1/16 miles and is a prep to the $500,000 Swaps Stakes on July 14.

The other candidates are Tracemark (120), Fonz's (119), Calkins Road (116), and Kamsack (115).

Azeri the Vanity highweight

On Saturday, Azeri will carry top weight of 125 pounds in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap, where she will be seeking her fourth consecutive win in a Grade 1.

Trained by Laura de Seroux, Azeri is expected to face Affluent, Collect Call, and Ask Me No Secrets, who were second, third, and fifth behind Azeri in the Milady Handicap on May 25. McCarron will ride Ask Me No Secrets.

Terna and Starrer may also start. Starrer has not started since winning the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap last December. She is trained by John Shirreffs following the breakup of previous trainer David Hofmans and owner George Krikorian.

Azeri is the nation's top older filly or mare racing on dirt. Her current three-race winning streak began in the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita in March and continued a month later in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Oaks invite a coveted ticket

There are likely to be more owners wanting to start their 3-year-old fillies in the $500,000 American Oaks on July 6 than there will be positions available in the 14-horse gate.

Invitations will not be issued until Saturday for the first running of the turf race over 1 1/4 miles, but interest is strong, according to racing officials. A group of local, national, and international-based fillies will be invited.

From the local team, Megahertz, Arabic Song, and Alozaina, who were first, second, and fourth in the $200,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 8, are seeking invitations along with Adoration, the winner of Saturday's Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks on dirt. Adoration won the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes on turf earlier at this meeting.

High Society, who finished third in the Honeymoon, will start in the Flawlessly Stakes on July 5, but de Seroux is hoping that Dublino, a recent import from France, will receive an invitation.

The national team may include Distant Valley, the winner of Saturday's Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs; Cellars Shiraz, a nine-length winner of Saturday's Office Queen Stakes at Calder; and Riskaverse and Cyclorama, the first two finishers of Sunday's Sands Point Stakes at Belmont Park.

Dublino was stakes-placed in France in April. She heads a strong group of Europeans seeking invitations, according to officials with the International Racing Bureau.

The other hopefuls are Portella and Tomori, the first two finishers of the German 1000 Guineas; Turtle Bow and Ombre Legere, stakes winners in France; and Saranac Lake, a stakes winner in Ireland last year.

Frankel has much to juggle

Trainer Bobby Frankel will have a chore to keep his turf stars apart in coming months.

After Frankel finished first and third in Saturday's Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap with Denon and Skipping, he outlined plans for the pair as well as Beat Hollow, the win of two major stakes this spring, and other turf horses in his stable.

Frankel is planning to send Skipping to the $500,000 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park on July 6, and Denon to the $225,000 Arlington Handicap at Arlington Park on July 27. Kappa King, a recent allowance winner who was scratched from the Whittingham, may start in the $175,000 Arlington Classic on June 29, while Thady Quill will be pointed for the $150,000 American Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf here on July 4.

Frankel said he may have more than one starter in the American.

"I've got about eight horses for the American," he said.

Plans for Beat Hollow are more certain. The winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on May 4 and the Manhattan Handicap on June 8, Beat Hollow will try for his third straight win in a Grade 1 in the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 28.

Frankel does not have a scheduling problem with his two leading stars on the main track: Milwaukee Brew and Mizzen Mast.

Milwaukee Brew earned a trip to the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup with his victory in the Californian Stakes on Saturday. The victory made Milwaukee Brew the first horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap and Californian since Spectacular Bid in 1980.

Milwaukee Brew was the sixth Santa Anita Handicap winner since 1980 to start the Californian. Interco, who finished second in 1984, came the closest before Milwaukee Brew.

* Lethal Instrument, who was quickly pulled up in the Californian, was vanned off. Jockey Victor Espinoza said Lethal Instrument warmed up "very rough." On Sunday, Shirreffs said that Lethal Instrument was not injured.

* Golden Apples, the winner of the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks last year and Santa Ana Handicap earlier this year, has returned to trainer for Ben Cecil. She worked five furlongs on turf in 1:05.60 on Sunday.