06/18/2003 11:00PM

Time to collect on Pass Rush

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NEW YORK - Reigning Horse of the Year Azeri commands center stage Saturday when she goes in the $250,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park. And, it will be entertaining watching her, as always, as she attempts to win her 10th straight race.

Betting on Azeri, however, is another matter. Unless you're a chalk-eating weasel - let's face it, a lot of people out there are, because how else does Azeri get pounded down to 2-5? - there is just nothing appealing about $2.80, not when there are a lot of other stakes races Saturday in which to invest your money.

For example, there is another NTRA Summer Pick 3, comprising the $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park, the $300,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown, and the $250,000 Dallas Turf Cup at Lone Star, all of which will be televised live on CBS. There are a handful of interesting sprint stakes races, like the $200,000 James B. Moseley Breeders' Cup Handicap at Suffolk Downs, the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap at Prairie Meadows, and the $100,000 Aristides Handicap at Churchill Downs. There is even the Prairie State Festival at Arlington Park of six stakes races for Illinois breds worth $450,000.

Here are my three spotlight stakes:

James B. Moseley

True Direction is a solid play here. Yes, when he posted rapid fractions before going on to complete six furlongs in 1:07.86 in winning his first start of the year last month, the sloppy track at Belmont over which he performed was conducive to fast times.

Yet, even when taking into account the relative speed of the surface, which is what speed figures do, True Direction's performance still bordered on the freakish. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 116, which puts him right up there with the fastest sprinters in the country, and True Direction earned that big number while not even being asked to do his best.

In light of that performance, you would think True Direction would be a short price Saturday, but that may not be the case. Between My Cousin Matt, who is making his first start since his trip to Dubai, and the three strong Michael Gill-owned entry, the price on True Direction, who can win from anywhere on the track, may actually be decent.

Aristides

I feel I am owed money with Pass Rush after what happened to him two starts back in the Churchill Downs Handicap, and I believe this is the spot where I collect. Pass Rush was the victim of a brutal ride in that race on the Kentucky Derby undercard, checking going into the far turn and checking again in the stretch. He did very well to finish second to Aldebaran, who came back to win the Met Mile in his next start.

Pass Rush did not run as well last time out in the Lone Star Park Handicap, but he was caught wide on the first turn. With the return to Churchill, and in his third start off a layoff, Pass Rush will deliver a big effort.

Dallas Turf Cup

This is the third leg of the NTRA Pick 3, but it is also a fine betting race on its own. Patrol, who was competitive with better when third in the Woodford Reserve last out, is a deserving favorite and has to be included in Pick 3's. But he has questions at the distance and could have company early.

My pick is Statement. He clearly has problems given all the layoff lines he shows, but either of his two wins at Gulfstream earlier this year would be good enough to win, and his closing style fits the pace scenario. In Pick 3's, I would also include Candid Glen, who was compromised by slow paces in his last two starts.

In the first leg of the NTRA Pick 3, the Phipps Handicap, I like Sightseek, following her big stakes win on the Kentucky Derby undercard, to beat Take Charge Lady, who needs to show me where she's at physically after being hobbled by a foot bruise. The second leg, the Ohio Derby, spotlights Midway Road, who didn't beat a lot finishing second in the Preakness. Nevertheless, Midway Road is certainly more battle tested than the promising Wild and Wicked, so I'm standing alone with him.