10/08/2004 12:00AM

No. 1 appropriate position for Azeri

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
After running in Sunday's Spinster, Azeri will race just once more.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - D. Wayne Lukas believes that when Azeri wears the No. 1 saddlecloth Sunday at Keeneland, it will stand for something more than her post position in the $500,000 Overbrook Spinster Stakes.

"She might be the most popular horse I've ever had," said Lukas. "After she won at Saratoga this summer, Pat Day said the same thing, that he couldn't remember a horse getting the kind of reception she got."

For Lukas, there is delicious irony in the fact that , owned by Michael Paulson, is a 6-year-old mare making her first-ever start at Keeneland, the track situated in the heart of breeding country.

"Michael should be saluted, not criticized, for keeping such a big draw like her around for another year," said Lukas. "This race Sunday needed a star attraction, and here she is for all the fans to see."

For Paulson and Lukas, the big question still yet to be answered is whether Azeri, who will be a huge favorite in the 49th running of the Grade 1 Spinster, will make the final start of her career in the Breeders' Cup Distaff or Classic. Both races will be run Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

"Obviously all votes aren't equal," said Lukas. "It's basically going to be whatever Michael wants to do. He'll do what's in our best interest and the best interest of the mare. I think that in the next week or so, things will shake out, and we'll know."

The 1 1/8-mile Spinster, which drew six other fillies and mares, will be of major interest to racing fans not only because of its implications on the Breeders' Cup and its longstanding prestige on its own. As the eighth of nine Sunday races, the Spinster also is part of a pick four wager for which Keeneland, in conjunction with Television Games Network, is offering a guaranteed pool of $300,000. The guaranteed pick four starts with the sixth race, the Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy (post time, 3:45 p.m. Eastern).

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, has won 16 of 22 starts, with her latest victory a memorable upset of Sightseek in the Aug. 1 Go for Wand at Saratoga. Day, who has ridden Azeri in her last four starts, again will have the mount Sunday, when Azeri will try to add to her bankroll of $3,649,820.

Lukas said Azeri could not be approaching the Spinster in any better shape.

"She is really thriving in this fall weather," he said.

After winning the Go for Wand, then running second to Storm Flag Flying in the Aug. 27 Personal Ensign, Azeri has had four sharp workouts at Churchill Downs, the latest a five-furlong bullet in 59.20 seconds last Sunday.

With Azeri sure to be an odds-on choice, horseplayers will be looking for wagering value from the rest of the Spinster starters.

One obvious alternative is the California invader , who shows solid form since finishing eighth in the Kentucky Oaks in her last trip east. Since then, House of Fortune has rebounded with a win in the Hollywood Oaks and a second in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar.

One longshot possibility is , who with Day aboard upset Azeri in the seven-furlong Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day. Since then, Mayo on the Side is winless in four starts.

"Azeri sure is running good, so I don't know," said Carl Nafzger, trainer of Mayo on the Side. "We'll do our deal, though. Our filly will be there to run."

The rest of the Spinster field is One for Rose, Tamweel, Angela's Love, and La Reason. All starters carry 123 pounds except House of Fortune, who carries three pounds fewer as the lone 3-year-old in the field.

Besides the WinStar Galaxy, a terrific turf race for fillies and mares, an outstanding Sunday card also includes the $100,000 Storm Cat Stakes (race 4) and two allowances (race 3 and 5). The other races in the guaranteed pick four drew full fields of 12. The seventh is a maiden special weight sprint, and the ninth is for older $15,000 claimers at 1 1/16 miles.

The field

Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 Miles; Grade 1

1 AzeriP. Day1233-5
2 One for Rose E. Ramsammy12315-1
3 TamweelR. Douglas12312-1
4 Angela's LoveM. Guidry12315-1
5 Mayo On the SideR. Albarado1234-1
6 La ReasonR. Bejarano12320-1
7 House of FortuneG. Stevens1209-2

* Odds by Kristin Sadler