08/06/2003 12:00AM

Sister Girl Blues to test Azeri again


DEL MAR, Calif. - The 109 pounds that Sister Girl Blues has been assigned for Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap is both a blessing and a hindrance to owner Jeff Nielsen and trainer Terry Knight.

Sister Girl Blues will carry as much as 18 pounds less than topweight Azeri, who is seeking her 11th consecutive win and carrying 127 pounds, a burden equal to the highest assignment of her career.

The problem for Knight and Nielsen is finding a jockey who can carry the light weight and take advantage of the handicap. Most riders based in Southern California tack 114-116 pounds.

In the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 21, Sister Girl Blues was assigned 110 pounds, but was ridden by G.F. Almeida at 111. She led to early stretch before Azeri pulled away to win by two lengths.

Almeida remains a candidate to ride Sister Girl Blues in the Hirsch, but Knight and Nielsen have not made a decision on a rider.

"I'll let Jeff make that call," Knight said.

Sister Girl Blues's performance in the Vanity left Knight and Nielsen willing to try Azeri again in the Grade 2 Hirsch, which is run over 1 1/16 miles.

"She ran terrific. She gave us everything she had," Knight said of Sister Girl Blues. "She was definitely tired. I think the six weeks off has been good.

"The only thing not good is going against that mare again. She's a great horse, and they've done a great job of keeping her going."

A winner of 2 of 7 starts and $172,317, Sister Girl Blues, 4, is having her best season but is still looking for her first stakes win. She was second in the Hollywood Oaks last year and second in the Henson Memorial Handicap at Sunland Park in early April.

Knight is taking a realistic approach to the Hirsch. He realizes it may take more than 127 pounds to slow down Azeri.

"It's $60,000 for running second and $36,000 for third, but you don't like to go into a race thinking like that," Knight said. "[Sister Girl Blues] really showed a fondness for that track at Hollywood, and you hope it translates here."

Only five runners are expected for the Hirsch, the same number that started in the race last year. Azeri won that renewal while carrying 126 pounds.

Aside from Sister Girl Blues, Azeri will face Angel Gift, who was second in the 2002 Hirsch and has subsequently won a minor stakes at Bay Meadows; Got Koko, who swept the La Canada series last winter at Santa Anita but is unraced since March; and Tropical Blossom, who was fourth in the Vanity and third behind Azeri in the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap in May.

Valenzuela cancels Wednesday's mounts

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who through Monday was tied for second in the standings with 11 wins, was excused from his eight mounts on Wednesday for personal reasons, according to track stewards.

Valenzuela's agent, Nick Cosato, said the jockey left him a message asking to be removed from his rides. "He said he wanted to spend time with his wife," Cosato said.

Valenzuela underwent a drug test on Wednesday, which came back clean, track stewards said.

Valenzuela, 40, has been the leading rider in Southern California this year, winning titles at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. The success comes after Valenzuela returned to riding in December 2001 following a 22-month suspension because of substance-abuse problems, which have plagued his career.

English invader Cassis headed for Oaks

Cassis, the winner of the Musidora Stakes in England in May, is scheduled to arrive in California this weekend for the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 24. The Grade 1 Oaks is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Cassis will be making her final start for trainer Jeremy Noseda in the Oaks. She may join trainer Kathy Walsh's stable, but a decision on whether she will be based in California or on the East Coast has not been finalized.

Cassis has been unplaced in three consecutive Group 1 races in recent months. She finished fifth in the French Oaks, fourth in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, and sixth in the Nassau Stakes last weekend at Goodwood, England.

In the Oaks, Cassis will be joined by three fillies who ran over the weekend at Del Mar. Katdogawn and Star Vega, who finished first and fourth in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap, will start as an entry. Dessert, an impressive winner of an allowance race Monday, also is being pointed for the Oaks, according to trainer Richard Mandella.

Handle, attendance up since last year

Through Monday, the end of the second week of the seven-week meeting, Del Mar continued to show strong gains in attendance and handle figures.

The ontrack attendance was 19,259, a gain of 13.1 percent over last year. The opening day of the meeting on July 23 marked the second-highest attendance in track history - 40,682.

The ontrack handle was averaging $2,567,147, a gain of 1.6 percent over 2002. The average overall handle, including statewide and nationwide sources, was $13,168,790.

In 2002, Del Mar set a record for overall average handle with $12,351,679.

Tucked Away points for Torrey Pines

Tucked Away, the winner of the Fleet Treat Stakes for California-bred 3-year-old fillies on July 27, is being pointed for the Torrey Pines Stakes, trainer Paddy Gallagher said.

Owned by Nico Nierenberg, Tucked Away won her first stakes in the Fleet Treat. Nierenberg also owns Adminniestrator, who won the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita last January. Adminniestrator later finished third in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap and eighth in the Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano Handicap before being turned out with an injury.

Adminniestrator is expected to return to racing in the coming months.

* Daunting, the winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel at Canterbury Park on July 19, may return in the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs on Aug. 24, trainer Mark Glatt said.

Daunting was entered for the San Diego Handicap last Sunday but was scratched the morning of the race.