03/19/2003 1:00AM

De Seroux: Azeri on schedule


ARCADIA, Calif. - Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, has done enough for trainer Laura de Seroux to pronounce her fit and on schedule for her seasonal debut in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5.

The 5-year-old Azeri had her third recorded workout of the year on Tuesday at the San Luis Rey Downs training center. She worked five furlongs in 58 seconds, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:10.80 and seven furlongs in 1:24.80, de Seroux said.

"I'm well on schedule," de Seroux said. "She's incredible."

Azeri has had a limited exercise program in recent months. Owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, Azeri and other horses owned by the Trust were the subject of a long-standing dispute among the beneficiaries of the Trust until earlier this year. Azeri was scheduled to be sold as part of a dispersal of the Trust's racing holdings earlier this month at the Barretts sale. Under the terms of the dispersal, Azeri and the other horses were not allowed to undergo serious training until the sale.

The sale did not occur after an agreement was reached in February between the beneficiaries. Paulson's sons - Michael, Richard, and Jim - retained ownership of the Trust's horses, while Paulson's widow, Madeleine, retained control of the family's Del Mar Country Club.

A judge recently approved the agreement.

The light training schedule mandated by the terms of the dispersal prevented Azeri from being ready for the top filly and mare stakes of the Santa Anita meeting. But de Seroux said she gave Azeri some strong gallops.

"I was told light training and the interpretation was left up to me," de Seroux said. "We didn't just canter. There comes a point when you have to let the fizz out of the bottle."

Azeri has not started since winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff last October. She won the Apple Blossom Handicap last April, the second in a string of seven consecutive stakes wins.

Azeri is scheduled to have two more workouts at San Luis Rey Downs before being shipped to Oaklawn Park.

Valenzuela works Kafwain

Kafwain, who finished second in the Louisiana Derby on March 9, worked five furlongs in 59.20 seconds on Wednesday under Patrick Valenzuela, who may gain the mount for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

Trainer Bob Baffert said that Kafwain's previous jockey, Victor Espinoza, will not have the mount in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert stopped short of awarding the mount to Valenzuela, the regular rider of Elloluv, who is scheduled to run in the $500,000 Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland, also on April 5.

Kafwain worked in company with Requesto, an allowance-class horse trained by Baffert who has the dubious distinction of having finished second in 11 of his 17 starts. Kafwain's workout was the fifth fastest of 65 recorded works at the distance on Wednesday.

"He worked really awesome," Baffert said. "He did it on his own. I wanted to see how Patrick worked him."

Baffert was disappointed with Kafwain's runner-up finish to Peace Rules in the Louisiana Derby. Fifth on the backstretch, Kafwain reached contention in early stretch but never threatened Peace Rules, losing by 2 1/4 lengths.

"The way he ran last time isn't going to get it," Baffert said. "We can't make any more mistakes."

Krone targets Del Mar

Julie Krone, the Hall of Fame jockey who suffered broken bones in her back in a spill on March 8, said on Wednesday that she is aiming for a return at Del Mar in July.

Krone broke two bones in her lower back and suffered two compression fractures of vertebrae in her middle back in a one-horse spill.

The injuries did not require surgery, but Krone was wearing a brace and using crutches when she attended morning workouts on Wednesday.

"I'm making it back for Del Mar," she told well-wishers while standing on the rail. "I want to ride."

More time for Little Treasure

Little Treasure, the winner of the San Clemente Handicap and Pucker Up Stakes last year, will miss Saturday's $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap because of missed training time, Laura de Seroux said.

The Santa Ana Handicap, for fillies and mares over 1 1/8 miles on turf, would have been Little Treasure's first start since a ninth-place finish in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland last October.

"I'm just a little short for a mile and an eighth with what I've been able to do," de Seroux said.

Little Treasure is being pointed for the $75,000 Miss America Handicap at Bay Meadows April. 5.

* Valenzuela, who through Wednesday led all riders here with 77 winners, has dropped an appeal of a three-day suspension he received on Dec. 31. The suspension stemmed from the disqualification of California Goal from third to fourth for interference in midstretch of the seventh race on Dec. 29. Valenzuela is currently serving a five-day suspension for a disqualification last Friday. The suspension for the dropped appeal will run from March 26-28.