02/17/2006 1:00AM

Grade 3 Azeri next target for Round Pond

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - It looks like the country's best fillies and mares will have Round Pond to deal with this year. Round Pond turned in an exceptional comeback race at Oaklawn on Thursday, when in her first start since July she easily won a six-furlong optional claiming race and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.

Next up for Round Pond is the Grade 3, $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup here on March 11. From there, she is scheduled to return to Grade 1 company, in the $500,000 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn on April 8.

Round Pond won the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park last year, and was a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly of 2005. Thursday, she was making her first start since having a small bone chip removed from her left knee. Round Pond easily overtook stakes-winning pacesetter True Tails in the stretch, and went on to cover the distance in 1:09.93.

"She's a very, very talented filly," trainer John Servis said of Round Pond. "She came back very good. She's acting good. She ate up good. It was not a hard race on her."

Servis said depending on the weather, he expects Round Pond to return to the track for training on Monday. He said the filly has thrived this year.

"You can just tell she's matured," he said. "She's happy. She really enjoys going out there and [training]."

Round Pond is the second high-profile horse Servis has sent out to win a comeback race in less than a week. Rockport Harbor won his first race in nine months in the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex last Saturday.

"It's real good to have them both come back and perform like that after a long layoff," said Servis.

Baghdaria on road to Fantasy

Trainer Bret Calhoun has made a lot of right calls with Baghdaria, who upset Grade 2 winner French Park last out in the Grade 3, $250,000 Silverbulletday at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs. Baghdaria has won her last three races, and will start in Sunday's $50,000 Martha Washington here.

The one-mile Martha Washington is the first of two local preps for the Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy here on April 14. Calhoun hopes to use the Fantasy as Baghdaria's stepping-stone to the Kentucky Oaks.

"She doesn't have the eye-popping numbers that some of the top fillies in the country have right now, but she's done everything we've asked her to do, and she's on the improve," said Calhoun. "I think this time of year that's all you can ask for. I don't think we've seen her best yet. She's getting better and better."

Baghdaria won a one-mile turf allowance at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs on Dec. 4, and the logical progression for the filly, who is bred for the grass, would have been the $75,000 Bedanken on turf at the Fair Grounds meet. But the sharp manner in which Baghdaria won the turf allowance, and the fact that she was a winner on dirt, led Calhoun to lean toward another option for the Baghdaria, the Silverbulletday.

"I felt like she deserved a chance at it," he said. "The good thing about her is she's handled all distances, all surfaces. She's run well at Arlington Park. She's run well at Hawthorne. She's run well on the grass at Louisiana Downs, and she's run well on the dirt at Louisiana Downs."

Calhoun made another right call with Baghdaria last week when he moved up her final breeze for the Martha Washington. Baghdaria was set to work for the race last Sunday, but the weather turned cold on Saturday and he decided to work her then - even though she had already trained early that morning.

"All we did was jog her a mile, and as the track started thawing, and it looked like after the break it would get good enough, we brought her back out and worked her five-eighths," said Calhoun. "That was it. She's ready."

Because of freezing temperatures, the track ended up being closed for training last Sunday.

Baghdaria is a daughter of Royal Academy and races for Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch. She was a $52,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland September.

Well Said possible for Rebel

Well Said won a highly rated allowance for 3-year-olds on Thursday and could make his next start in the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel here on March 18. Trainer Walter Bindner Jr. said he is discussing a possible start in that race with owner Hargus Sexton.

Well Said rallied through the stretch to win the one-mile allowance Thursday.

"We were thrilled with his performance," said Bindner.

Both of Well Said's career wins have come around two turns. He is a son of Aptitude.

"It looks like the further the better," said Bindner.

Hyte Regency to skip Southwest

Officials consider nine horses probable for the $250,000 Southwest Stakes on Monday. As of Friday the probables were Celluloid Hero, Fidrych, Kingsfield, Lawyer Ron, Mark of Success, Red Raymond, Sharp Attack, Steppenwolfer, and Travelin Leroy. Admiral's Arch is a possibility.

Hyte Regency, who had been considered for the Southwest, will pass the race, his trainer, Jeff Trosclair, said Friday. The colt did not bounce back out of his last workout as quickly as desired, said Trosclair.

"We'll kind of regroup," he said. "It's a long year."