02/09/2004 1:00AM

Krone 'way ready' for return


ARCADIA, Calif. - Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone, who has been out two months with an injury, returns with three mounts on Wednesday's eight-race program at Santa Anita.

Krone last rode at Hollywood Park on Dec. 12, when she suffered an upper chest injury in a two-horse spill. She resumed exercising horses last week and has worked several horses daily since the weekend.

"That was enough time," she said. "I'm way ready."

Krone rides the three turf races Wednesday. She has the mount on Fade to Blue in the third race, Star Wizard in the fifth race, and Devious Boy in the seventh race, the Thunder Road Handicap.

Krone rode her first full season in California in 2003. She suffered a back injury in March and missed four months of racing but still finished 10th in the standings at the Santa Anita winter meeting. Krone rode the final week of the Hollywood Park summer meeting and then finished second to Patrick Valenzuela at Del Mar.

During that meeting, she won three of the track's major stakes - the Pacific Classic with Candy Ride, the Del Mar Futurity with Siphonizer, and the Del Mar Debutante with Halfbridled.

Krone finished fifth in the Oak Tree standings at Santa Anita in the fall and was leading the Hollywood Park standings when she was injured. She eventually finished in a tie for third.

Azeri gets first breeze in a while

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year and champion older female of 2002 and 2003, breezed three furlongs in 35.20 seconds Sunday.

The breeze was her first timed workout since she resumed training in late December, two months after she was expected to be retired because of a tendon injury. Azeri spent two months in Kentucky last fall before owner Michael Paulson said she was being put back in training with D. Wayne Lukas in California.

Paulson split with Azeri's previous trainer Laura de Seroux last fall.

Paulson said Azeri underwent an ultrasound examination over the weekend before the workout.

"Wayne is ecstatic," Paulson said. "She's really focused."

A winner of 14 of 16 starts and $3,044,820, Azeri has not started since she finished third in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap last September. She was promoted to second after runner-up Elloluv was disqualified for causing interference.

Preeminence makes U.S. debut

The presence of the Japanese stakes winner Preeminence gives Monday's $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap for older fillies and mares an international feel.

Run over 1 1/16 miles, the Grade 1 Santa Maria will have a strong field that includes 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Adoration. In her last start, Adoration was second to Star Parade in the Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in December.

Star Parade returns in the Santa Maria against Angel Gift, Bare Necessities, and La Tour.

Preeminence, 7, is making her first start in the United States. She won 13 of 49 starts and $5,037,956 in Japan.

Preeminence is likely to make two starts in California this winter before being sent to Kentucky to be bred, trainer Laura de Seroux said.

Preeminence is owned by Yoshiyuki Ito and was trained in Japan by Ito's brother, Keizo.

"I think they have an avid curiosity to see how she stands up here," de Seroux said of the Itos.

Preeminence had one victory in 12 starts last year and earned $958,686. Her last win came in November, in a Grade 2 worth $624,000 over 1 1/4 miles at Urawa, Japan.

Seven rich weekend stakes

There are seven stakes between Saturday and Monday, with values ranging from $70,000 in Sunday's Daytona Handicap to $250,000 in Sunday's Santa Maria Handicap and Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Saturday's program is led by the $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies over 1 1/8 miles. Victory Encounter, the winner of the El Encino Stakes on Jan. 18, leads a small field that includes Atlantic Ocean, Bartok's Blithe, Cat Fighter, and Sea Jewel.

Monday's $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf is led by Fairly Ransom, the winner of the Del Mar Derby last September. He will be opposed by Continental Red, Labirinto, Meteor Storm, Puerto Banus, Researched, and Runaway Dancer.

Rock Hard Ten on his way up

After scoring impressive maiden wins over the weekend, Rock Hard Ten and Wimbledon joined the list of 3-year-olds to follow.

Rock Hard Ten made his career debut in a seven-furlong maiden race Saturday. Ridden by Gary Stevens, Rock Hard Ten stalked 2-5 favorite Storm Pilot to early stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:22.27.

Wimbledon won a one-mile maiden race by eight lengths Sunday. Ridden by Javier Santiago for trainer Bob Baffert, Wimbledon was timed in 1:36.33.

Wimbledon, who was making his fifth career start, had finished second in his last three races.

"At least he got a W," Baffert said. "He's like a big kid."

Ten Most Wanted eyes New Orleans

Ten Most Wanted, a leading 3-year-old of 2003, will make his first start of the year in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds on Feb. 29, trainer Wally Dollase said.

Ten Most Wanted worked seven furlongs in 1:25.40 last Friday. Dollase said the timing of the New Orleans Handicap allows a few more workouts for Ten Most Wanted before he is sent to Louisiana.

Olmodavor, the winner of the Whirlaway Handicap at Fair Grounds on Feb. 1, may not return for the New Orleans Handicap, trainer Richard Mandella said.

Mandella said Olmodavor is more likely to stay in California for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.

Breeders' Cup Classic winner Pleasantly Perfect, also trained by Mandella, is the top contender for the Big Cap. Pleasantly Perfect won his 2004 debut in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap on Jan. 31.

Domestic Dispute, the upset winner of the Strub Stakes last Saturday, and Southern Image, the winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 24, are also Big Cap candidates.

Late scratch gives bettors a rush

Pick six bettors were forced to adjust quickly Sunday when Loup de Loup was a late scratch from the fourth race, the first leg of a pick six that included a carryover of $157,836.

Loup de Loup was 5-2 when she was withdrawn after being injured at the gate.

There was a three-minute delay before the race was run, giving bettors who had Loup de Loup on their tickets little time to make changes. Pick six tickets with Loup de Loup that were not changed reverted to favored Oh So Sultry, who finished second.

Pick three bets also reverted to Oh So Sultry. Win, place, show, daily double, exacta, quinella, superfecta, and trifecta bets were refunded. A consolation double was paid from third-race winner Areyoutalkintome to Loup de Loup.

Jockey Albarado wins Woolf award

Robby Albarado, the regular rider of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, was presented with the 2004 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in a winner's circle ceremony between races Saturday.

The award is voted on by jockeys throughout the nation and reflects achievement and personal character.

Albarado was one of five nominees, along with Krone, Gary Baze, Randall Meier, and Richard Migliore.

"Being honored for this award is special for me," Albarado said. "When I received word I was nominated, I was surprised. When I found out who else was nominated, I was overwhelmed."