07/05/2003 12:00AM

Sir Oscar battles throughout for win


MIAMI, Fla. - A field of 10 2-year-olds went postward in Saturday's $100,000 Criterium Stakes at Calder but in the end the 5 1/2-furlong race turned out to be a virtual match race. Sir Oscar ultimately proved a neck better than Charming Jim following a near gate to wire battle.

Both Sir Oscar and Charming Jim came into the Criterium undefeated, each having won their only starts against maiden competition. Despite that fact, Sir Oscar was bet down to 3-5 favoritism while Charming Jim was sent to the post as the third choice at 10-1.

Alyazuli was first to show in front after breaking alertly from his outside post, but was quickly joined by Charming Jim and Sir Oscar in the opening furlong. The top pair shook loose leaving the turn, then battled nose to nose down the stretch before Sir Oscar gradually edged to command in the final strides. It was another eight lengths back to My Friend Bruce, who finished a nonthreatening third.

Sir Oscar, a son of Halo's Image, is trained by Manny Azpurua, who won the Criterium Stakes for a record fifth time. The winner covered the distance in 1:05.55 and paid $3.40.

"Today he got tested and came through," said Azpurua, who trains Sir Oscar for owner-breeder Oscar Novo. "Now we will look for improvement for his next start in the Florida Stallion Stakes [Dr. Fager on Aug. 9]."

Neither Charming Jim or My Friend Bruce are eligible for the Stallion Stakes.