03/04/2010 1:00AM

Euphony out to build on '10 debut

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - A shipper from Florida and a pair of fillies from Southern California have spiced up the Saturday stakes double at Oaklawn, where the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Handicap and the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri will be run as preps for next month's Oaklawn Handicap and Apple Blossom Invitational.

Both the Razorback, which drew Gone Astray from Florida, and the Azeri, which has lured Freedom Star and Spirit Seeker from Santa Anita, will be run at 1 1/16 miles. And neither has a clear-cut favorite.

Euphony looks as solid a choice as any in the Azeri, which drew nine fillies and mares including stakes winners French Kiss, War Echo, Superior Storm, Just Jenda, Afleet Deceit, and Taptam. It will be Euphony's second start since August. She finished second by a half-length in the $73,000 Pippin here Jan. 23.

"We're ready to go," said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Euphony, a Grade 3 winner who is 4 for 5 at Oaklawn. "I think she'll be very competitive in this spot. We've got some locals and some shippers, and it should make for a very interesting race."

Euphony stalked the pace and was edged by Taptam in the Pippin.

"We came up on the inside and made the lead and maybe got a little late towards the end there," Von Hemel said. "But it was a good first effort for the year."

And one Euphony figures to move forward off Saturday.

Cliff Berry has the mount on Euphony, who could get a stalking trip behind the rail-drawn Freedom Star and Spirit Seeker.

Spirit Seeker will be making her Oaklawn debut after finishing fifth and 10th in a pair of Grade 2 stakes at Santa Anita. They were the first synthetic starts for the stakes-placed filly, who had previously won five races on the dirt track at Calder.

"That's the strategy, to put her back on dirt," said Jerry Hollendorfer, who trains Spirit Seeker.

"It looks like a very competitive race, and we think we can compete in there."

Taptam enters off back-to-back wins at Oaklawn. After taking the Pippin, she won an allowance over Grade 2 winner Payton d'Oro here Feb. 12.

"She's gotten really good," said Bret Calhoun, who trains Taptam. "We've been a little fortunate. We caught Euphony on a comeback race, caught Payton d'Oro on a comeback race. But with that being said, there were still other nice horses in those fields, and I can't take anything away from Taptam. She's run two really nice races and her confidence is soaring."

Israel Ocampo will ride Taptam.

Freedom Star will attempt to give trainer Bob Baffert his second straight stakes win at the meet following Conveyance's score in the Grade 3 Southwest. Freedom Star, who was third in the Grade 2 El Encino in January and fifth in the Grade 2 La Canada in February, will be ridden by Calvin Borel.

Razorback: Pace figures to be lively

Racing Bran stole last month's $100,000 Essex at Oaklawn when he was allowed to coast through six furlongs in 1:14.20. For the Razorback, he could have a lot more company on the front end, and that could set the plate for leading contenders Gone Astray, Jonesboro, and Win Willy.

"I think we'll be laying a little bit off the pace," said Shug McGaughey, who trains Gone Astray. "He relaxes well in his races."

Gone Astray, who is making his first start since November, won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade 2 Ohio Derby last year. McGaughey wanted to bring him back at two turns but did not want to jump right into a 1 1/8-mile race back home at Gulfstream.

"I thought the mile and a sixteenth is a good place to get him started back," he said.

Eddie Castro will ride.

Jonesboro could get a stalking trip behind speed horses Spotsgone, Acting Zippy, Mad Flatter, and Racing Bran.

"Let them go," said Randy Morse, who trains Grade 2 winner Jonesboro. "Hopefully, we'll be three, four lengths back."

Jonesboro has reason to move forward off his fourth-place finish in the Essex. The race was his first out since Nov. 6.

Morse had hoped to run Jonesboro in a sprint stakes first race back, but when the track came up wet for the race he was scratched and ended up in the 1 1/16-mile Essex.

"He'll be a lot fitter horse this time than he was last time," said Morse, who has given the mount to Borel.

Win Willy will remove blinkers for the Razorback.