01/15/2003 1:00AM

Educated guess at Azeri's value


LEXINGTON, Ky. - What is the price tag on a Horse of the Year? The answer is coming in six weeks, when Azeri - the heavy favorite to win the award - is sold March 4 at Barretts as part of the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust dispersal.

Naturally, she has to win Horse of the Year first. Barring the unexpected, she will. In a year in which no male horse dominated late in the season, the award is Azeri's to take. We already know she was a unanimous choice for champion older mare.

What we don't know is what she is worth as a racing and broodmare prospect. I must say I am more eager to find out her value than to see if she is crowned Horse of the Year during the Eclipse Award's presentation on Jan. 27.

The Horse of the Year award is a no brainer. Her price tag - that is anyone's guess. So I will - $3.6 million.

Not that I would buy her if I had the $3.6 million. But I believe someone will.

She is likely to be crowned Horse of the Year and is selling at the peak of her value. An owner could acquire her and race her this year, then send her to the breeding shed and a date with Storm Cat, or another upper-echelon stallion.

Her sales price figures to be huge. Mackie sold in foal to Mr. Prospector a couple years ago for $5 million. Desert Stormer, winner of the 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint, was auctioned off for $3.6 million carrying a Storm Cat baby. Fiji, the female turf champion of 1998, was sold in November for $3.1 million in foal to Danehill.

As a racehorse, Azeri's accomplishments exceed those of Mackie, Desert Stormer, and Fiji. But Mackie and Desert Stormer were proven as broodmares, having already produced quality runners.

Azeri may ultimately produce stakes runners, but racing skill alone does not always transfer to producing a steady supply of top-class foals. Remember Genuine Risk? She won the Kentucky Derby, yet had just two living foals following her retirement from racing in 1981. Neither raced.

Azeri is by Jade Hunter, a good sire, but one who stands for $10,000, not $100,000. Additionally, the black type in her first three dams would seem unlikely to inspire pedigree lovers - aside from her own black-type contributions.

Selling her with racing left in the tank is a wise move. She made nearly $2.2 million last year, racing against females. She could make even more this year if her new owner chooses to try her against males in rich races like the Santa Anita Handicap, or even the Breeders' Cup Classic.

You've heard my guess. Now it's your turn.

As handicappers, we aren't often lacking an opinion. It's in the nature of gamblers. Most of us can't afford a champion. But that doesn't stop us from saying, "Man, Xtra Heat only sold for $1.5 million the other day - she could have earned half that back racing for a year."

I, for one, plan to place a friendly wager with some friends over what Azeri brings at auction. The closest one wins the loot, and all the glory he or she can stand.

I'm taking $3.6 million. If someone picks a dollar above or below me, they're going to be in trouble.