06/09/2004 12:00AM

Phipps next on schedule for Azeri


ELMONT, N.Y. - Azeri, coming off a loss against males in the Metropolitan Handicap on May 31, is being pointed to the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on June 19, according to her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Azeri will be back with her own sex in the 1 1/16-mile Phipps, but it won't be an easy assignment. Among the probable starters for the $300,000 Ogden Phipps are champion Storm Flag Flying, Sightseek, who won last year's Phipps, and Passing Shot, the winner of the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga in 2003.

On Wednesday at Churchill Downs, in her first work since the Met Mile, Azeri covered five furlongs in 1:00, breezing. It was the fastest of 20 works at the distance.

Lukas, who trains Azeri for Michael Paulson, said the 6-year-old came out of her eighth-place finish in the Met Mile - her first start against males - no worse for the wear. It was the worst finish in Azeri's 19-race career.

"Obviously, she came out of the race very well," said Lukas from Kentucky on Wednesday. "Right now the [Phipps] is the only Grade 1 out there, and the particulars of the race are right. All the positives are there for a filly like this. We wouldn't want to drop her to a Grade 2 and go somewhere [too far] out of town. From where I'm standing, New York is desirable."

Pat Day, who replaced Mike Smith aboard Azeri in the Met Mile, has the assignment for the Phipps. Smith had ridden Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, in each of her starts before the Met Mile.

On Wednesday at Belmont, Passing Shot worked six furlongs in 1:13.17. In her last start, Passing Shot finished second to Storm Flag Flying in the Grade 2 Shuvee at Belmont May 15.

Weights for the Ogden Phipps are due out on Sunday

Denon works toward return

Bobby Frankel, Sightseek's trainer, is preparing Grade 1 winner Denon for a return to the races. On Wednesday at Belmont, Denon worked three furlongs in 37.10 seconds. It was Denon's first work since finishing 11th in the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin on Dec. 14.

Denon, a 6-year-old, won one race in seven starts last year, the Grade 1 Manhattan. Other Grade 1's won by Denon during his 21-race career are the Hollywood Derby and Charles Whittingham at Hollywood Park and the Turf Classic at Belmont.

After the Hong Kong Cup, Frankel sent the horse to a farm in California for several months. He returned to Frankel's California barn earlier in the spring and arrived in New York on May 24.

"His ankles were a little puffy, so he spent four or five months on the farm," Frankel said. "He should be ready for Saratoga. He isn't heavy from being on the farm."

Frankel said he is not against running Denon in a stakes for his first race back, perhaps in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga on Aug. 14.

"Last year in his first race [after a layoff], he finished second to Storming Home in the Jim Murray," Frankel said.

Still assessing surgery on Seattle Fitz

The throat operation that Seattle Fitz had after he finished sixth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in February appeared to help him when he won the Grade 3 William Donald Schaefer at Pimlico on May 15.

Seattle Fitz, who will run in Saturday's $250,000 Brooklyn Handicap, underwent a myectomy, a minor surgical procedure to correct a breathing problem. Kiaran McLaughlin, Seattle Fitz's trainer, said the true test of the operation's success would come in the horse's next couple of starts.

"You never know how much a myectomy helps, but it appears to have helped him," McLaughlin said. "We'll know more three races from now. Obviously, he went in the right direction at Maryland, but he took a step back [in class] that day and that helped, too. On Saturday, he's taking a step back up."

The Grade 2 Brooklyn doesn't figure to have a big field. The likely favorite is Dynever, the 117-pound highweight. The other confirmed starters are Congrats and Newfoundland. Gander, Private Lap, and Country Be Gold are listed as possibles by the racing office.

Capital Peak heads feature

Capital Peak should be a deserving favorite in Friday's $46,000 allowance feature on the turf. Ten horses, including two for the main track only, were entered in the 1 3/8-mile first-level allowance race.

Capital Peak ran well to finish second at Belmont on May 7 in his first start since October 2002. Capital Peak, a 5-year-old trained by Sanna Hendriks, one of the top steeplechase trainers in the country, won a maiden race at Friday's distance at Belmont when he was a 3-year-old.

Shaun Bridgmohan rides Capital Peak from post 5.

Leading the Parade, a half-brother to champion Storm Flag Flying, tries the turf for the first time. Trained by Shug McGaughey, Leading the Parade is the third foal produced by My Flag, who never ran on the turf, and her first foal to run on the grass. Leading the Parade's last two works were on Belmont's turf course.

Leading the Parade, who hasn't run beyond nine furlongs, is coming off a third-place finish at this level.

Jerry Bailey rides Leading the Parade.

* Jason Orman, the trainer of Rock Hard Ten, who finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes, was fined $50 by the stewards for employing unlicensed help.