08/05/2002 11:00PM

Team Irguns Angel thinking upset

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The law of averages is one of the few angles working for Irguns Angel when she faces the red-hot Azeri in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

"Azeri doesn't have to win every single race she's in," said Ron Anson, who owns Irguns Angel.

A top contender for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in October, Azeri has won four consecutive Grade 1 races and will be heavily favored to win the Grade 2 Hirsch, run over 1 1/16 miles.

But Anson is willing to take on Azeri with Irguns Angel, who has won three consecutive races since returning from an eight-month layoff in May. He is banking on Irguns Angel's speed to give her a chance in the meeting's top race for fillies and mares on dirt.

"What if we get to the eighth pole and we have a length and a half on Azeri? She could grow a heart," Anson said of Irguns Angel.

Owners who have faced Azeri in recent months have sought ways to defeat her in major stakes. But none of their horses has succeeded since Summer Colony beat Azeri in the La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita in February. Azeri has since won the Santa Margarita, Apple Blossom, Milady, and Vanity handicaps.

The 4-year-old Irguns Angel is winless around two turns, but was second in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes over 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita in January 2001. The best race or her 11-start career came in the seven-furlong A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park last month when she rallied in the final furlong to catch Secret Liaison and win by a head.

The performance in the A Gleam emphasized that she is over the problems that curtailed her career in 2001, when she had bone chips removed from her ankles.

"They were small chips but they were there," trainer Alfredo Marquez said. "I think they were bothering her a little bit.

"She's very different. She's more mature and sounder. It's easy to work with her. Before, she was a little nervous. She's training super.

"I think seven furlongs is her best distance, and we'll find out if she can handle two turns. I want to pull the upset."

A winner of 5 of 11 starts and $270,155, Irguns Angel will carry 116 pounds and will be ridden by Jose Valdivia, who returns on Thursday from a four-week layoff caused by a wrist injury.

Azeri will carry 126 pounds, the highest weight assignment of her career. Trained by Laura de Seroux, Azeri carried 125 pounds when she won the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 22 from the front.

The other Hirsch probables are Adoration, Collect Call, Mind for Gold, Queen of Wilshire, and Se Me Acabo.

Irguns Angel may be passing a possible stakes win to run in the Hirsch Handicap. Irguns Angel would be a logical contender in the $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap over 6 1/2 furlongs, but would have to face top female sprinters Go Go, Kalookan Queen, and Secret Liaison.

"We're honored to run against Azeri," Anson said. "If you told me when I bought Irguns Angel we would have won a couple of hundred-thousand and be running against the Breeders' Cup [Distaff] favorite, why not be happy to be in the race?"

Pacific Classic field anything but set

The San Diego Handicap last Sunday did little to clarify the potential field for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 25.

The richest race of this meeting, the Pacific Classic has few definites with a little more than two weeks remaining. The candidates include War Emblem, the winner of Sunday's Haskell Invitational; Grey Memo and Euchre, the first two finishers in the San Diego Handicap; and Momentum, the runner-up in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Other possibles are Sky Jack, the winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup; Bonus Pack, the winner of the Dominion Day Handicap at Woodbine; and Nates Colony and Dig for It, who finished fourth and fifth in the San Diego Handicap.

The Pacific Classic is run over 1 1/4 miles. It will not include Congaree or Palmeiro, who finished third and seventh in the San Diego.

Congaree finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Grey Memo after leading in the stretch. He is scheduled to undergo a precautionary veterinary exam this week, according to John Adger, the racing manager for Congaree's owner, Stonerside Stable.

Palmeiro bled and will be rested, trainer John Sadler said.

Milwaukee Brew or Euchre?

Trainer Bobby Frankel is undecided whether he will start Euchre or Milwaukee Brew in the Pacific Classic. Milwaukee Brew won the Santa Anita Handicap and was third in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Frankel is concerned that the Del Mar track is playing favorably to closers in two-turn races, which would compromise the chances of Euchre, who races near the pace.

But such a scenario would help Milwaukee Brew, who comes from off the pace.

"How do I know which one to run?" he said. "Maybe the track will change in the next week."

Frankel said Milwaukee Brew could be shipped to Saratoga for the $300,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap on Aug. 17.

Starine is un-retired

Frankel has changed his mind about Starine's future. Last month, he said Starine was retired, but she has since gone back into training for a possible comeback in the fall.

Frankel is hopeful that Starine can be ready for the lucrative autumn races for fillies and mares on turf, but says the outlook is guarded. On July 11, Frankel said she was retired, explaining that she would need time off to recover from a recent injury.

But Starine resumed exercise recently, and worked a half-mile on turf in 50 seconds on Monday.

"We'll just see how she is," Frankel said.

A winner of 9 of 31 starts and $963,913, Starine won the Matriarch Stakes and Diana Handicap last year. In her most recent start, she finished second in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 27.

* Jockey Omar Berrio was briefly hospitalized on Monday after being thrown from Passion Caper as the field neared the starting gate for the second race. He underwent X-rays, which were negative.