12/29/2003 12:00AM

Comebacking Azeri arrives at track


ARCADIA, Calif. - Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, arrived at trainer D. Wayne Lukas's stable at Santa Anita on Sunday, but remains months away from resuming a career that appeared to have ended in October because of injury.

Owner Michael Paulson said on Sunday that Azeri underwent ultrasound examinations at two equine hospitals in Kentucky in late October and early November before the decision was made to send her to Lukas.

The examinations focused on the condition of Azeri's front left tendon. In October, trainer Laura de Seroux said that Azeri had developed an inflamed tendon in her left foreleg.

Paulson said the recent examinations revealed that Azeri had "a sound tendon with no tendinitis and all fibers in alignment."

"Regardless of this good news, we'll bring her back with caution and diligence," Paulson said.

Azeri, 5, has won 14 of 16 starts and $3,044,820. She won 11 consecutive races from March 2002 to August 2003, a streak that ended with a second-place finish in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 28.

Azeri had two workouts after that race and then was taken out of training. At the time, she was considered the favorite for the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita.

Paulson said that Azeri has only been hand-walked while based in Kentucky in recent weeks and is several months away from a potential start.

"We'll bring her back slow," Paulson said. "The news has been good since she got to Kentucky. I was extra careful about it and gave her 75 days off."

Despite Azeri's 2002 championship and her status as a top contender for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding older female of 2003, Paulson said he would like to see Azeri contend for additional championships.

"Does Tiger [Woods] retire after winning all the majors?" Paulson said. "Do the Williams sisters, as great as they are in tennis, do they retire? What about Kelso - he won Horse of the Year five times in the 60's?

"It's not that she has to prove anything. She loves to run. I think she's great for Thoroughbred racing. Why not run her? They're Thoroughbred racehorses, not Thoroughbred breeding horses. Why retire all these champions too early?"

Despite those comments, Paulson admits that Azeri might never start again.

"We'll keep her on a tight regimen as far as checking her out," he said. "Hopefully, we can bring her back."

Azeri was part of a seven-horse group Paulson sent to Lukas. Paulson mentioned Indy Gal, a 2-year-old filly who is a half-sister to the millionaire Geri, as an exciting prospect in the Lukas barn.

Both Pescis in winner's circle

Earlier this year, actor Joe Pesci did more than lend his last name to a 3-year-old unraced filly trained by Wesley Ward. He bought a half-interest in the filly, who is now unbeaten after two starts.

On Sunday that filly, Pesci, won a first-condition allowance race by five lengths in front of the Academy Award-winning actor and dozens of his friends. She finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.35, stalking the pace to early stretch before pulling clear.

Joe Pesci became involved as an owner earlier this fall.

At the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita in late October, horse owner Roger King told Pesci that he wanted to name a horse on his behalf. Ward proposed naming an unraced Stormy Atlantic filly after Pesci, which piqued the actor's interest.

"Can she run?" Pesci asked Ward.

After Ward told him he thought that she could, Pesci wanted to be involved in more than just a name.

"I said if there is a horse named after me, I should own it," Pesci said in the winner's circle on Sunday.

The filly debuted in a six-furlong maiden race at Hollywood Park on Thanksgiving, winning by 8 1/2 lengths. Joe Pesci attended the races that day. He has been a racing fan throughout his life.

"I used to go to Monmouth Park all the time when I was a kid," he said.

Ward would like to start Pesci in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24, but is worried that the Florida-bred may not have enough career earnings to gain a berth.

"I imagine it will be difficult to get into the race," Ward said.

Pesci was purchased for $140,000 as a 2-year-old. Ward said he waited to start Pesci, who stands 17 hands, because of her size and some minor problems.

Olmodavor works for San Pasqual

Olmodavor, the winner of the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park last month, worked a half-mile on Monday preparing for Saturday's $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap, trainer Richard Mandella said. The drill did not appear on the daily workout sheet.

Olmodavor is expected to be joined in the San Pasqual by Gift of the Eagle, Grey Memo, Hot Market, Nose the Trade, Star Cross, Total Impact, and Truly a Judge. Congaree, another nominee, will not start, said trainer Bob Baffert.

Sunday's top race is the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Salty Romance, the winner of the Delta Princess Stakes at Delta Downs last month, is probable along with A.P. Adventure, Mambo Slew, Penny's Fortune, Stellar Jayne, Super GI, and Wildwood Flower.

* Strong Cat, an impressive winner of a maiden race for 2-year-olds in his career debut last Friday, has been transferred by owner Stan Fulton from trainer Bruce Headley to Rafael Becerra. Three other Fulton-owned horses trained by Headley were shipped to Becerra. "He just didn't care for my style," Headley said.

* Jockey Martin Pedroza took off his three mounts Monday, citing illness. He finished in a tie for fifth place among jockeys at the Hollywood Park fall meeting, with 22 wins.

* Jon White, a commentator on the Santa Anita intertrack simulcast program and the HRTV network, hit Sunday's pick six for $45,981. The winning ticket cost him $120.