04/03/2003 12:00AM

Facing the boys in Azeri's future


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - When you manage a Horse of the Year, you must be focused on the present while keeping an eye to the future. That's precisely how trainer Laura de Seroux is proceeding with Azeri, who will likely race against males for the first time later this year to help her connections decide whether she should point for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, or the $2 million Distaff.

Azeri makes her 5-year-old debut in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Saturday. Following this race, she will probably face her own division again at Churchill Downs.

"We'll strongly consider the Louisville Breeders' Cup on Oaks Day," said de Seroux. "Again, it's a mile and a sixteenth, and I don't want to stretch her out too soon to a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter.

"It's also approximately 30 days after this race, and before we even think about taking on males, I want two races under her belt against her own sex. We'll see how long she can stay in her own division, and how depleted the older handicap division gets, and basically make choices from there."

De Seroux said a possible first clash with males could come in the Grade 1, $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup July 13.

"Really any good race against males with a good purse is probably at a mile and a quarter, and that will tell me a lot where we end up at the end of the year, meaning the Classic or the Distaff," she said.

Azeri has never raced 1 1/4 miles, which is the BC Classic distance.

"I wonder about that, because she's so fast, and it's one thing to sustain that 11 [second] clip at a mile and an eighth," de Seroux said. "It's a lot different against boys, to do it at a mile and a quarter, so I'm very mindful of that.

"I think it's very important to keep that in mind, so we don't do the wrong thing with her and trip over the invisible line that we should have seen.

"I'm very spoiled. Last year, we built and built and built and built, and I want to try and do the same thing again this year. It's not going to be as simple, that's for sure."

Homecoming for Medaglia d'Oro

Saturday is the second time trainer Bobby Frankel will watch Medaglia d'Oro run at Oaklawn. The first time was on a television screen a year ago when the colt won a maiden race here for trainer David Vance.

Soon afterward, Frankel purchased Medaglia d'Oro on behalf of Edmund Gann. Frankel will be on hand Saturday to saddle Medaglia d'Oro in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

The decision to purchase Medaglia d'Oro was not hard.

"I saw his race, his figures were good, and I sent a vet to look at him and he said he looked good, strong, so we bought him," Frankel said.

Medaglia d'Oro went on to win the Grade 2 San Felipe, Grade 2 Jim Dandy, and Grade 1 Travers before concluding his 3-year-old season with a second-place finish to Volponi in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

He returned to the races Feb. 1 and won the Grade 2 Strub.

"As he's gotten older, he's more mature, bigger, and stronger," Frankel said.

Historic day at Hot Springs

What a way to get a party started. The Racing Festival of the South, which will include at least one stakes race a day over the next six race days at Oaklawn, begins Saturday with Azeri and Medaglia d'Oro competing on the same card in arguably the biggest day of racing in Hot Springs.

"It ranks as one of the great days," said Terry Wallace, spokesman for Oaklawn. "We've had lots of champions, but up until last year, we never put both of those races on the same card, and to have the best of both divisions . . . "

* The Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap, which go as the eighth and 11th races on a 12-race card, will be linked by a special daily double.

* The Apple Blossom will be shown live on TVG and Fox West.

* The weather forecast for Saturday is for partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 75 degrees.