05/02/2005 11:00PM

Cerin a fan of Afleet Alex and his sire

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Mike Machowsky estimates Southern Image will race sometime in July.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The hottest trainer at Hollywood Park has a soft spot for Kentucky Derby starter Afleet Alex. Vladimir Cerin, who entered the week with 5 wins from his first 11 starters, purchased Afleet Alex's sire, Northern Afleet, and trained him for three races at age 3 before the Mr. Prospector colt became a graded stakes winner for David Hofmans.

Northern Afleet won the Grade 1 Strub at 1 1/8 miles in 1997, but was most effective at shorter distances. Cerin believes Afleet Alex can stay 1 1/4 miles.

"He's got every right to go that far; his bottom side is a mile and a half," Cerin said.

Though he advised on the purchase of Northern Afleet, Cerin was not his first trainer. As a 2-year-old, Northern Afleet won his debut and finished second in a Grade 3 for none other than Warren Stute, trainer of Derby contender Greeley's Galaxy.

Cerin recently bought a 5-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet named Native Hawk. A winner of 6 races and $138,648 from 18 starts, Native Hawk makes his first California start May 14 in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap.

Southern Image aims for July return

Southern Image is galloping daily, and trainer Mike Machowsky expects the 5-year-old to have his first comeback breeze later this month.

"He's really coming back good," Machowsky said. "I want to put a good bottom on him and get ready for the last six months of the year. It won't take long to get him ready."

A three-time Grade 1 winner with 6 wins from 8 starts, Southern Image has not raced since a runner-up finish last May 12 in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. The long-term goal is Del Mar, but Southern Image could return sooner.

"In the back of our mind, we're thinking maybe the Triple Bend," said Machowsky of the July 3 race at Hollywood Park. Machowsky said other possible spots for Southern Image are the San Diego Handicap on July 24 and the Pacific Classic on Aug. 21, both at Del Mar.

High praise from Headley

The redistribution of Jess Jackson's racing stable is complete, and even Jackson's former trainer, Bruce Headley, expects the group, which includes sharp maiden winner El Roblar, to make plenty of noise.

"I predict he'll win the Strub series," Headley said of El Roblar.

On Sunday Jackson announced that he had dissolved his relationship with Headley.

Headley explained his workout regimens to Richard Mandella, new trainer of El Roblar, and to the trainers who received the other Jackson horses, "so they can go right on with my projects."

Headley, who owned a minority share of many Jackson runners, said he and Jackson reached an agreement in which Headley relinquishes his share of more than two dozen Jackson horses in exchange for a 50 percent share in True Integrity, an unraced Honour and Glory colt purchased for $575,000 and co-owned by Marsha Naify.

Regarding Jackson, Headley said: "It's great we have someone investing money in the game. He loves the game, and we had a great time together."

The last runner Headley started for Jackson was Donna's Doll on Sunday in the Grade 3 Railbird. She finished seventh as the 2-1 second choice and came out of the race sick. Headley said she colicked the next morning. Donna's Doll was transferred to John Shirreffs, with two unraced 3-year-old fillies including one, Anacota, who Headley said "is a rocket, she's another Kalookan Queen."

John Sadler is the new trainer for 5-for-5 Ramatuelle and Argentina Group 1 winner Zanzibar. Sadler also received two unraced maidens, including a fast Two Punch colt named Bonanza Two. Machowsky received three maiden fillies, including La Crema, a $420,000 Kris S. filly who ran third in both starts. Trainer Steve Asmussen is expected to get the Jackson 2-year-olds, including a $900,000 War Chant colt out of Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Safely Kept.

Indian Ocean flashes star potential

Only two weeks into the Hollywood Park spring meet, an exciting 3-year-old prospect has emerged. Indian Ocean earned a 99 Beyer Figure winning a maiden race last Saturday by four lengths in a quick 1:14.96 for 6 1/2 furlongs. Trainer Jay Robbins now finds himself in the same position he was in five years ago with Tiznow - looking for a first-level allowance to stretch a horse out. The comparisons stop there, though Robbins admits that Indian Ocean "has a lot of potential. . . I think he can run long."

Indian Ocean is by Stormy Atlantic and produced by a Halo mare.

"He's very flashy looking, and well-balanced," Robbins said.

Indian Ocean is owned by Mercedes Stable and was trained last year by Jason Orman until being sidelined with sore shins. Indian Ocean's maiden win was his second start.

Female sprinters head east

The local female sprint division will scatter about in coming weeks. Stakes winner Puxa Saco, trained by Jenine Sahadi, will run Saturday at Churchill Downs in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff. She will be joined in the race by Santa Candida, a Group 1 winner from Argentina who has been in California with trainer A.C. Avila since late last year.

Grade 3 winner Elusive Diva and Grade 1 winner Friendly Michelle are expected to run May 14 at Belmont in the Grade 2 Genuine Risk.

* California-based turf horse Habaneros, upset winner of the Grade 3 Carleton F. Burke Handicap last fall, will return to Arizona for the $50,000 Hasta La Vista Handicap on May 22, closing day of the Turf Paradise meet. Habaneros finished a troubled second on Sunday in the $40,000 Wildcat Handicap. Habaneros is trained by Ray Bell, who has won the 1 7/8-mile Hasta La Vista four times.