08/26/2004 11:00PM

Storm Flag Flying catches Azeri in Personal Ensign

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It took a little more than two minutes to make up for nearly two years of frustration for Storm Flag Flying.

Taking advantage of a hot pace and a questionable ride by jockey Pat Day aboard Azeri, Storm Flag Flying collared that rival inside the eighth pole and edged away in deep stretch to win Friday's Grade 1, $400,000 by 1 1/4 lengths before 22,095 at Saratoga. Azeri, the 3-5 favorite, was second by a half-length over Nevermore. Board Elligible and Roar Emotion completed the order of finish.

It was the first Grade 1 win for the 4-year-old Storm Flag Flying since she capped off her championship 2-year-old season with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Since then, Storm Flag Flying had won only 2 of 7 starts and had lost three Grade 1's. She ran only twice as a 3-year-old before getting injured.

"It was a great thrill to have us be rewarded this way, to come back and be able to win a big race at Saratoga with what we went through her 3-year-old year,'' said trainer Shug McGaughey.

Roar Emotion, under Jerry Bailey, broke on top in the 1 1/4-mile race and cleared Azeri going into the first turn after running a quarter in 23.15 seconds. Day guided Azeri, the two-time distaff champion, to the outside of Roar Emotion and stalked her through a half-mile in 46.26 seconds. Day then let Azeri run to the neck of Roar Emotion after three-quarters in 1:09.78.

Azeri put a head in front at the three-eighths pole, but Storm Flag Flying, who sat in third under John Velazquez, was launching her bid. Storm Flag Flying caught Azeri just inside the eighth pole and the two ran together until inside the sixteenth pole, when Storm Flag Flying pulled away. Storm Flag Flying, who was in receipt of six pounds from Azeri, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.68 and returned $6.30 to win.

"Pat got into it a little bit more than we liked,'' said D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of Azeri. "She was probably trying to run and he let her run. I'm not critical of that. As you saw, it got down to four strides.''