05/01/2004 12:00AM

Mayo on the Side outduels Azeri


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Trainer Carl Nafzger completed a sweep of upsets in the filly and mare distaff division when his 5-year-old mare Mayo on the Side won a stretch-long duel with the champion Azeri to win Saturday's Grade 1, $280,250 by a head.

On Friday, Nafzger's Lead Story won the Grade 2 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap, knocking off the 2-5 favorite Sightseek.

"It ain't like winning the Derby," said Nafzger, who won the 1990 Derby with Unbridled. "But, it's close."

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, was courageous in suffering just her third defeat from 18 starts. In addition to spotting the winner 11 pounds, Azeri was forced to steady twice under jockey Mike Smith. The first time came at the break. The second time came when Smith tried to guide Azeri inside of the pace-setting Randaroo.

"Those two checks cost her that six inches she got beat," said D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Azeri.

As expected, Randaroo shot to the front under John Velazquez, running an opening quarter in 22.49 seconds and a half-mile in 45.04. Smith guided Azeri to the outside of Randaroo midway down the backside, but around the turn they were joined by Mayo on the Side, under Pat Day.

Mayo on the Side and Azeri battled head and head through the stretch, with Mayo on the Side prevailing by a head. Mayo on the Side, a 5-year-old daughter of French Deputy owned by her breeder, Robert Lothenbach, covered the seven furlongs in 1:22.78 over a track labeled fast. She returned $13 to win in the four-horse field. Randaroo finished third, and Keiai Sakura finished last. Bear Fan, Halory Leigh, and Cat Fighter scratched.

Day said the margin of victory could have been greater.

"As soon as my filly inherited the lead she came out of the bridle," Day said. "Then I had to turn my stick up and really get to asking her. Azeri passed us and she fought back right at the wire. If I realized she was going to do that I would have opted to wait a little longer."

After the race, Nafzger was almost apologetic because of the significant weight spread between Mayo on the Side and Azeri.

"Grade 1's should not be handicaps, they should be equal weights. I don't care who you are," Nafzger said. "A filly like Azeri deserves to be treated better, as one of our heroes instead of giving 11 pounds away to a very talented filly. I'm not apologetic, I'm just saying it's not right. You want to see heroes in this business, leave the Grade 1's alone. I won't give the money back."