04/07/2002 11:00PM

Up, up, up goes Azeri's stock for trainer de Seroux

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Azeri, who beat a blockbuster field Saturday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap in just her sixth career start, has done so much so fast, it begs the question: What's her ceiling?

"I don't know," said trainer Laura de Seroux. "I think she's one in a lifetime."

De Seroux has the frame of reference to make such a statement. She came up under Charlie Whitting-ham, first going to work for the legendary trainer as an exercise rider in 1974, and later seeking out racing prospects for him in Europe.

During her long association with Whittingham, de Seroux worked with such top-class horses as Dahlia, the first filly to earn $1 million, Estrapade, Lord at War, Palace Music, King Pellinore, Dahar, and Swing Time.

Azeri has not made a wrong move since she won her maiden over six furlongs in a blazing 1:08.80 on Nov. 1. She captured an entry-level allowance race in her next start Dec. 17, successfully tackled two turns over optional claiming foes Jan. 12, finished second to Summer Colony in the Grade 2 La Canada on Feb. 9, rolled to a three-length win over $3 million-earner Spain in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita March 10, and then won the Apple Blossom.

"Her race [Saturday] was the same sort of dependable race that she seems to give us because she is so good and she loves to run," said de Seroux. "It's just wonderful to have a horse like that that assuages your nervousness because you feel sort of sublime that she's going to take care of everything. She's teaching us to relax and be happy. She's very relaxed and happy and a very personable horse."

She also came out of the Apple Blossom in top condition, which has led de Seroux to confidently map out a series of races for Azeri that will culminate with the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Azeri will take a little time off now, and return to action in the Grade 1, $200,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 25.

She will then likely run in Hollywood's Grade 1 Vanity Handicap on June 22, and take another break before de Seroux decides which race to use as her prep for the Breeders' Cup.

"That gives us two breaks. She's the kind of filly we can do that with," de Seroux said. "She's very lithe and athletic and she doesn't gain weight or lose her fitness. From the La Canada to the Santa Margarita, and the Santa Margarita up to this race, she only had two works - and a week off after each race."

Azeri races for the Allen Paulson Living Trust, and after the Apple Blossom win de Seroux said she wanted to acknowledge, along with Whittingham, Allen Paulson, who bred Azeri, for the "horse empire he created." Whittingham, she said, "taught me everything I know, without telling me."

Azeri and de Seroux flew back to their San Luis Rey Downs base in Southern California on Monday.

It'sallinthechase arrives for Derby

It'sallinthechase, third to Repent in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in his last start, vanned to Hot Springs from Oklahoma City on Monday for the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby on Saturday. The colt is one 11 probables for the 1 1/8-mile race, which is also expected to draw Bay Monster, Dusty Spike, Gold Dollar, Guppie's Secret, Holdthehelm, Mr. Mellon, Outstander, Private Emblem, Windward Passage, and Wild Horses, to be ridden by Rene Douglas. Another under consideration is Bob's Image.

Avoiding Take Charge Lady

Lake Lady and Chamrousse, who each chased Saturday's Grade 1 Ashland winner, Take Charge Lady, in their last two starts at Fair Grounds, head the list of six probables for the Grade 2, $200,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn on Friday. Officials are also expecting Chirimoya, Fun House, See How She Runs, and Traci's Wild.

General Jeanne was listed as possible for the race on Monday.

* It was a big weekend at Oaklawn. The track handled a meet-high $8,608,527 on its 12-race card Saturday. The program featured both the Apple Blossom and Grade 1, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, and drew a meet-best crowd of 31,046. Attendance on Sunday was 20,110, while handle on the track's 11-race card was $5,096,475.

* The race for leading rider at Oaklawn will be tight. Anthony Lovato won nine races last week to move within three wins of James Lopez, who leads the standings 52-49. Lovato, who missed a week of riding earlier in the meet because of a bruised kidney, began gaining momentum in the standings two weeks ago when he had a five-win day March 29.

* Hall of Fame rider Earlie Fires, who was to be inducted into the Arkansas Wall of Fame on Tuesday, is named to ride two horses at Oaklawn on Wednesday for his brother, trainer William "Jinks" Fires.

* Southern Tour, who won the $100,000 Carousel Breeders' Cup on Sunday, is under consideration for the $100,000 Valid Expectations Stakes at Lone Star Park on May 27, said trainer Cole Norman.