09/02/2003 12:00AM

Stevens's injuries heal quickly


DEL MAR, Calif. - Now that Gary Stevens can breath easier, it's time to come back to the races. Tuesday morning at Del Mar, Stevens said he was going to begin riding again on Friday, less than three weeks after being injured in a terrifying accident in the Arlington Million.

Stevens thought he would be out for about a month after being injured, but was not surprised he is ready to come back sooner. He has been injured often enough to know he comes back faster than expected.

"Usually with a jock when they say it's four weeks, it's two," Stevens said.

Stevens sustained a punctured lung after being tossed by Storming Home in the shadow of the wire of the Arlington Million. He has worked several horses in recent days, including on Tuesday a promising 2-year-old colt of Bob Baffert's named Odds On. Odds On is by Silver Charm, with whom Stevens and Baffert teamed to win the 1997 Kentucky Derby.

"I'm just getting the kinks worked out," Stevens said. "I'm still a little stiff. Riding has helped. If I don't ride, my body deteriorates. I feel great working horses. I just wanted to make sure the wound closed up. I'm breathing good. After the accident, I couldn't breath. It hurt to breath. My neck's still a little stiff. I'm a little stiff all over. But I'm glad I'm alive."

Stevens has mounts in several stakes this weekend, beginning with Fly to the Wire in Friday's $75,000 El Cajon Stakes. He is also scheduled to ride Sweet Return in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Del Mar Derby, and Miss Houdini in Sunday's $75,000 Torrey Pines Stakes.

Azeri breezes at San Luis Rey

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, worked a half-mile in 47 seconds on Tuesday morning at San Luis Rey Downs under exercise rider Brian Eide. Both Eide and trainer Laura de Seroux said Azeri has been far more relaxed since her victory last month in the Clement Hirsh Handicap at Del Mar.

"Last year, she was a teenage girl. This year, she's a woman," Eide said.

De Seroux said Azeri most likely would make her next start in the Lady's Secret Handicap on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting. Oak Tree officials have said they are considering raising the purse of the race; they must first petition the California Horse Racing Board for approval to do so.

De Seroux said Azeri would have three more works prior to the Lady's Secret.

"That should put her perfectly in synch for the Lady's Secret," de Seroux said.

Valenzuela expands lead

Patrick Valenzuela won three races on Monday, including the featured Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap with Joey Franco, to open an eight-win lead, 44-36, on second-place Julie Krone with seven days remaining in the meet, which closes Sept. 10.

Should Valenzuela win, it will be his third straight riding title in Southern California, having captured titles earlier this year at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. He also was the leading rider last year at Del Mar.

"It's very important to be leading rider at any meet," Valenzuela said, "especially with the group of riders we have in Southern California."

Valenzuela's agent, Nick Cosato, was less focused on winning the meet specifically than he was on continuing to do well generally.

"By the next meet, whoever was leading rider at the last meet is forgotten," Cosato said. "It doesn't make any difference whether Julie beats Pat by one win, or vice-versa. They're both having incredible meets. That's what's important."

Valenzuela has 16 days' worth of suspensions currently on appeal.

Match race needs replacement

Getting every top 3-year-old to the Kentucky Derby is a challenge. So too, apparently, is getting both horses to a match race. Valenzuela and Krone are scheduled to compete in a match race on Sunday. Two horses, Oopstheregoes and Chesters Choice, were selected for the race. But Oopstheregoes, who worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds on Monday, emerged from the work with a fractured a sesamoid bone, so he is out.

"I gave him away to some people who want him as a pleasure horse," said Baffert, who trains Oopstheregoes.

Another Baffert runner, Woke Up Dreamin, is the leading contender to replace Oopstheregoes in the match race. Like Chesters Choice, he is a 3-year-old colt who is eligible to first-level allowance conditions. Del Mar officials were hoping Summer Mayberry, the trainer of Chesters Choice, would accept Woke Up Dreamin as the replacement.

The other horse being considered as a replacement is Musique Toujours, who won a $32,000 claiming race for 3-year-olds on Sunday. "If they want me, I'm ready," said Barry Abrams, who trains Musique Toujours.

Del Mar had a similar situation develop in a match race on turf in 1994. Cool Air was scheduled to face Soviet Problem, but Cool Air had to be withdrawn. Mamselle Bebette replaced Cool Air. Soviet Problem won easily.

Woe is Baffert

Baffert is on his way to being the leading trainer at Del Mar for the seventh consecutive meet, but when he purchased a cup of coffee at a local deli Tuesday morning, and was told by the counterwoman there was no charge, he quipped, "I guess she knows I'm having a bad meet."

Baffert has won a meet-leading 18 races, six more than second-place Jeff Mullins and John Sadler. Unless he wins nine races the final seven days of the meet, he will have his smallest single-season Del Mar win total since 1998. He also has sent out 99 starters this year, far below the 134 he sent out last year.

Like many trainers at this meet, Baffert has been hit by injuries. He did not want to go into detail on them, but confirmed that Allover, who set a course record when winning a 1 1/16-mile turf race last Wednesday, was one of the latest to be injured.

Asked if Allover had bowed a tendon, Baffert replied, "Just put he's hurt."

"This track might not be so cheery," Baffert remarked, "but it's still the best place to be in the summer."

More trouble for Pinfield

Trainer Tim Pinfield left this circuit for Singapore more than one year ago, but trouble continues to follow him. Del Mar's stewards this past week suspended Pinfield for failure to pay a shipping bill. According to George Slender, one of Del Mar's stewards, officials in Singapore subsequently suspended Pinfield through reciprocity.

"It's a financial thing," Slender said. "As soon as he pays that, he'll be restored to good standing." Slender said Pinfield owes Triton Equine Air Travel a sum between $10,000 and $15,000.

"He was notified two or three weeks ago," Slender said. "We called him on the phone. He said twice he would take care of it, but he failed to do so."

Slender said the outstanding bill was about nine or 10 months old.

Pinfield last year was temporarily suspended in Singapore for another financial responsibility situation the Del Mar stewards had to adjudicate. And before leaving the United States, the stewards had complaints filed by several former owners against Pinfield.

- Love That Lion on Monday became the second three-time winner of the meet, joining another claiming horse, Boonesboro Beach.