09/22/2003 11:00PM

She's a champ with an attitude


BONSALL, Calif. - Azeri's competitiveness has been seen throughout her career in the afternoon when she races, but it was on display even before a key workout Tuesday morning at San Luis Rey Downs. Prior to heading from the barn to the track, Azeri was walking in circles behind another horse trained by Laura de Seroux. Azeri pinned her ears, walked with purpose to get in front of her stablemate, then threw her ears forward, turning some nondescript exercise into another reason to compete.

That was only one example of why Azeri appeared primed on Tuesday morning for another bravura performance on Sunday, when she is scheduled to compete in the Grade 2, $300,000 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap on opening day of Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Azeri subsequently breezed an effortless half-mile in 47 seconds, after which de Seroux used the absolutely ideal word to describe the workout.

"Sublime," she said.

With exercise rider Brian Eide aboard, Azeri went the first furlong in 12.28 seconds, was timed in 23.90 for a quarter-mile, then galloped out five furlongs in 59.90 and six furlongs in 1:13.70, according to de Seroux's watch.

"That's as slow as we can go," de Seroux said. "All her works are the same. She starts off in 12 and change, and then clicks off furlongs in 11 and change. It's always the same. She's extraordinarily consistent."

Azeri will be seeking her 12th consecutive victory in the Lady's Secret, which is designed as a prep for next month's $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita. Azeri won last year's Distaff, and that secured for her not only a divisional championship, but Horse of the Year as well.

The Distaff remains the likely target for Azeri, but de Seroux left open the possibility that Azeri could run in the $4 million Classic, which would mark her first start against males. Her primary concerns are the competition, meaning Mineshaft; the pace of the race, meaning Medaglia d'Oro; and the fear that if Azeri is defeated in the Classic and Sightseek wins the Distaff, Azeri would not even win an Eclipse Award this year. The Classic is at 1 1/4 miles, the Distaff 1 1/8 miles.

"Certainly you have to keep an eye on what's going on with the defections," she said, referring to the connections of Candy Ride and Perfect Drift saying their horses are not being considered for the Classic. "The distance is a factor, except that Santa Anita's speed bias should play to her favor. And I don't want to risk a divisional championship. What if she's not in the Distaff and Sightseek blows that field away? There's a risk versus reward.

"We want to win a Breeders' Cup race. We want to go in the race she's most certain to win. There's a lot at stake here. Besides Horse of the Year, you have the win streak. It's going to be a last-minute decision."

Halfbridled continues to impress Mandella

He has seven horses aiming toward four Breeders' Cup races, yet trainer Richard Mandella's expectations may be highest for the least experienced of his arsenal. The 2-year-old filly Halfbridled continues to act and train like a potential superstar, and Mandella could only shake his head Tuesday morning after another brilliant workout by the Del Mar Debutante winner.

Working in dense fog minutes after 8 a.m., Halfbridled and jockey Julie Krone blistered the final quarter-mile in 22.20 seconds with an effortless stride that belied the time on Mandella's stopwatch. "She's very special, I've got no problem saying that," Mandella said.

Beyond the fast workout time, Halfbridled did it despite ovulating. Mandella noticed it for the first time as she was walking off the track. "It didn't seem to bother her any," Mandella said, although Krone sensed before the workout that something was different.

"She was grouchy today," Krone said. "Every time I moved or did anything she got mad at me. [I wondered] why is she getting so mad at me? What did I do? Her ears were pinned, and she never does that. Her ears are always up. But when we broke off her ears went straight up and it's like, 'Aaah, speed. This is what I like.' " Upon learning that Halfbridled was in season, Krone said, "That makes me feel better."

Halfbridled worked soon after 8 a.m. in fog that was so dense the filly's workout did not make the official workout tab. She went a slow first quarter-mile in 24.80, then finished up in 22.20. Mandella caught her final eighth in less than 11 seconds. Halfbridled will be heavily favored Sunday in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf, in which Mandella also will run Del Mar maiden winner Lovely Rafaela.

Mandella's top 2-year-old colts - Siphonizer and Minister Eric - may train to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. "They're both doing fine, I just don't want to wish that I hadn't gone one too many times," he said.

Mandella said Del Mar Futurity winner Siphonizer "is 50-50 to run in the Norfolk," while Futurity runner-up Minister Eric definitely will skip the Norfolk and train up to the Breeders' Cup. The Grade 2 Norfolk will be run on Oct. 5.

The trainer will follow a similar plan with BC Turf candidate The Tin Man, sixth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million on Aug. 16. "I'm more likely to freshen him up and train him to the race," Mandella said.

Johar, who finished third in his Aug. 22 comeback, runs Sunday in the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship. "He's ready," Mandella said. "He's got that race under him, a nice prep into him, and he should be set."

Johar emerged as the top long-distance turf horse in California last winter. Before being sidelined, he won the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby, Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, and Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap against older horses.

Pleasantly Perfect aimed for Goodwood repeat

Pleasantly Perfect returns Oct. 4 in the Grade 2 Goodwood Handicap, which he won last year, as his prep for the BC Classic. Redattore will skip the Oak Tree meet entirely, and point for the Citation Handicap during the Hollywood Park fall meet. Dessert, who won the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, may run in the Queen Elizabeth at Keeneland, but Mandella said he was reluctant to ship the high-strung filly and instead may run her in the $100,000 Harold C. Ramser Handicap on Oct. 12. Crazy Ensign runs Sunday in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon.

- Pomeroy, who won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile on Sept. 13 only to be disqualified on a controversial call by Turfway Park stewards, worked a half-mile 47.80 seconds Tuesday for trainer Patrick Biancone and will run Oct. 5 in the Norfolk. The field for 1 1/16-mile Norfolk will include at least two Bob Baffert trainees - Odds On and Coldntight. Capitano, runner-up in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, will run, along with allowance winner Lucky Pulpit and possibly Ruler's Court.

- Oak Tree racing secretary Mike Harlow expects to position the Oak Leaf as one of the early races on the Sunday opening-day card. Halfbridled will be heavily favored in a field that also will include Daddy's Princess, Nicole and Ben, Renaissance Lady, and Tarlow. The Lady's Secret, featuring Azeri, will be run as the sixth race; the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch, featuring Storming Home, goes as race 7.

- Working in the fog at 8 a.m., Ancient Title nominee Omega Code worked five furlongs Tuesday in 58.60 seconds, according to trainer Wesley Ward. Because of the fog, track clockers did not record the workout. Ward said the Grade 1 Ancient Title on Oct. 5 is "under discussion. I'm pushing for that." Omega Code won the Grade 3 San Miguel here in January, but finished fifth in his Aug. 20 comeback at Saratoga.

Others pointing for the Ancient Title include Avanzado, Bluesthestandard, Captain Squire, Green - Grade 1 winner Dublino will be forced to skip the Yellow Ribbon Stakes on Sunday because of a splint injury. Trainer Laura de Seroux said Dublino will be trained up to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.