05/13/2003 11:00PM

Starrer won't take on Azeri

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Starrer, one of the nation's top older females, will miss a meeting with reigning Horse of the Year Azeri in the Grade 1 $200,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 24. Starrer has missed training in recent weeks because of an ankle problem.

Owner George Krikorian said the 5-year-old Starrer will be pointed for the next major race for the division at Hollywood Park - the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap June 21.

Krikorian said Starrer had "heat in an ankle," which has limited her exercise to walking at trainer John Shirreffs's barn. Krikorian said that tests revealed no further injuries and that Starrer is expected to start more vigorous exercise in coming days.

"There's nothing else there," he said. "She's fine. She's been campaigning kind of hard and has run well this year. John doesn't like to run a horse unless they are 110 percent. He'd rather take his time."

Starrer has won her last three starts. After a fourth-place finish behind Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park last October, she won the Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in December and two Grade 1 stakes at Santa Anita - the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita handicaps. Azeri did not start in any of those races.

Starrer has won 6 of 20 starts and $1,043,033. Aside from the Breeders' Cup Distaff, she lost to Azeri in two other races last year, finishing third in the Vanity Handicap in June and second in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita in October.

Krikorian's main goal for Starrer is the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Azeri will not have many opponents in the Milady Handicap, which is run over 1 1/16 miles. Trainer Ron McAnally on Wednesday said that Affluent, who finished fourth behind Azeri in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April, is likely to start in the Milady. She had been considered for the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap on turf on May 26.

"Being that there's a short field against Azeri, I think we might try her one more time," McAnally said.

Affluent, a six-time stakes winner, has not finished in front of Azeri in five meetings. On Wednesday, Affluent worked seven furlongs in 1:27.

Little Malvern: Big on turf?

Little Malvern has never started in a major stakes, has not run since October, and faces talented opposition when she makes her U.S. debut in Saturday's $100,000 Senorita Stakes at Hollywood Park.

But judging from the way trainer Jim Cassidy's 3-year-olds have run on turf this year, it is dangerous to summarily dismiss Little Malvern's chances in the one-mile race on turf.

Purchased for about $73,000 at a sale last fall in England, Little Malvern will be Cassidy's lone runner in the Grade 3 Senorita.

"I've been training her up to the race," Cassidy said. "I've done as much with her as I can except race her. It's a long time between races, but I like her a lot."

Little Malvern won 2 of 8 starts in England last year, racing below the top level. In her final start, she was second to Steelaninch in a minor handicap at Newmarket. The performance is noteworthy because Cassidy also trains Steelaninch, who won the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita last month.

Cassidy trains Little Malvern for John Cuchna, Daron Pearson and Jim Ford. Cassidy could have started Star Vega, the winner of the Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita on April 13, in the Senorita, but has opted to wait for the $200,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap on June 7.

"If she hits the board in the Honeymoon, I'll try the American Oaks," Cassidy said of Star Vega.

Little Malvern will need to be at her best to win the Senorita Stakes. The race is expected to draw Makeup Artist and Shapes and Shadows, the second- and third-place finishers in the Providencia Stakes, and Major Idea, fifth in the Providencia and the winner of two stakes earlier this year at Santa Anita.

Cassidy would prefer not to meet Makeup Artist, who is likely to be favored. Makeup Artist was not on the nomination list published last weekend. "I was happy with that," Cassidy said.

It turned out to be a false alarm. Makeup Artist has been supplemented to the race for $5,000.

American Oaks may get Cassis

On July 5, the $750,000 American Oaks will be run for the second time. The 1 1/4-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies drew runners from throughout the United States and Europe last year and is likely to do the same this year.

On Tuesday, English trainer Jeremy Noseda mentioned the American Oaks as a goal for Cassis, who won the Musidora Stakes at York, England. Noseda trained in Southern California in the late 1990's.

Continental Red looks for win

Continental Red, the 2002 California-bred horse of the year who is winless in three starts this year, will be pointed for the $75,000 Quicken Tree Stakes for statebreds over 1 1/2 miles on turf on June 15, trainer Ian Jory said.

Continental Red finished sixth in the $400,000 Jim Murray Handicap last Saturday at Hollywood Park, his first start since finishing fifth in the San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita in February.

Jory said that jockey David Flores had Continental Red farther back in the Jim Murray field than he expected. "I thought he'd be more handy than that," Jory said.