08/12/2002 12:00AM

Tricky choice for de Seroux


DEL MAR, Calif. - The day after Azeri's overpowering victory in the Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, trainer Laura de Seroux was mulling over the three options she has between now and the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 26.

Ideally, de Seroux would like to race Azeri one more time, but since the two races most appropriate for Azeri - the Lady's Secret at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, or the Ruffian at Belmont Park - are handicaps, de Seroux could train Azeri up to the Distaff, though that is the least palatable option for her.

"I've been thinking about it every moment. It is the $64,000 question," de Seroux said Monday morning from San Luis Rey Downs, where Azeri returned Sunday night. "I could train her up to it, but, gosh, that's a long way to go. She had seven weeks to the race yesterday, and she was fresh, which is why she probably got a little warm before the race.

"The Lady's Secret is the next and best option. But weight's a factor. If the race looks like it would be a nice workout, like yesterday, that would be great. It's an easy ship. The weather should be good. It's the most logical spot.

"The Ruffian is the best in terms of dates. The spacing is perfect. But I don't want to ship to Big Sandy," de Seroux added, referring to Belmont's nickname. "It could rain. And she would be facing her main rival for a championship" - Summer Colony- "on her home court. I'd rather meet at a neutral site in the Breeders' Cup."

Azeri came out of the race in perfect condition, de Seroux said. "I'm mighty proud of her," de Seroux said. "She dove into her hay net. She's out sunning herself now."

By contrast, Irguns Angel, who finished last in the Hirsch as the second choice, bled badly through her nose and will be given a vacation, trainer Alfredo Marquez said.

"She bled a lot from both nostrils. It took 30 minutes to stop the bleeding," Marquez said. "We scoped her, and everything else is clear. No mucus. No abscess. She just needs time."

Showdown in Debutante

A great showdown is in the offing for the Aug. 31 Del Mar Debutante, featuring the 2-year-old fillies Buffythecenterfold, who won Saturday's Sorrento Stakes, and Santa Catarina, who crushed maidens by eight lengths on Sunday.

Buffythecenterfold had a slight temperature on Sunday, but by Monday she was doing better, according to her trainer, Mel Stute. Still, Stute had to be careful with his treatment. He could not give Buffythecenterfold procaine penicillin. That medication is illegal to have in a horse's system on race day, and since it can stay in a horse's system for a month, Stute did not want to take a chance, since his filly's next scheduled start is in three weeks.

"There's a lot of sickness going around here," Stute said Monday morning. "I can't give her penicillin, because that might last a month." Instead, the horse was treated with Butazolidin.

"She's normal this morning Stute said, "and she ate all her dinner last night."

Santa Catarina, a daughter of Unbridled who cost owners Bob and Beverly Lewis $950,000 as a yearling, disappointed in her debut, but ran to expectations on Sunday.

"If she didn't do that, I'd be in big trouble," Baffert said. "I kept telling Bob she was a superstar. The Debutante's next. This filly reminds me of the top, top fillies, like Silverbulletday."

Workers' comp deal may be delayed

A time-consuming review by lawyers and insurance executives could delay the launch of a less costly workmen's compensation program for trainers from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1, according to racing officials.

In a two-page letter to the members of the California Thoroughbred Trainers dated Aug. 9, Ed Halpern, the group's executive director said the program "has a couple of points left to talk about. It's a matter of whether we can get the paperwork completed."

The program is designed to reduce significantly the workmen's compensation rates paid by trainers through a self-insurance policy that will be operated by trainers and owners.

Earlier this year, private insurance companies stopped offering workmen's compensation policies, forcing trainers to buy policies with the government-backed State Fund, which offers considerably higher rates.

The base rates from State Fund rose again on July 1, the start of the fiscal year, to $48.69 per $100 of payroll and $105.66 per jockey mount, with minimal discounts available. The new self-insurance program offers base rates of $38.75 per $100 of payroll and $91.45 per jockey mount, with discounts of up to 40 percent available based on experience and number of claims, Halpern said.

The self-insurance program will be supported by a $4 million fund that will initially be provided by a letter of credit from Southern California racetracks and the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

Proposed legislation to be heard this week in the state capital of Sacramento would divert money from the Stabling and Vanning Fund and the California Marketing Committee to replace the letter of credit.

John Van de Kamp, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said the legislation will allow the TOC to divert $25 from purses for each starter to offset the jockey's insurance.

Claiming Crown in plans

Bluesthestandard, the winner of a $32,000 claiming race on Aug. 7, is being pointed for the Claiming Crown at Philadelphia Park on Aug. 31. Claimed by a partnership for $10,000 in March, Bluesthestandard has since won two of five starts in $20,000 and $32,000 claiming races.

Trainer Mark Glatt said the 5-year-old Bluesthestandard is being pointed for a $100,000 race restricted to horses who have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less.

Glatt said a decision will be made following the pre-entry stage on Friday.

"I'd be surprised if there is a horse in there as tough as him," Glatt said.

Long fined and suspended

Owner Greg Long has been fined $10,000 and suspended 90 days by track stewards for using his owner's license to gain access to the backstretch in 2001 to sell a herbal feed supplement that resulted in six positive tests for banned amphetamines.

Long did not have the vendor's license needed to sell products on the backstretch. He sold Herbal Advantage, a herbal feed supplement, for two years before the positives occurred. Last Thursday, he told track stewards that he intended to acquire a vendor's license when the positives occurred.

Six trainers were fined $1,500 for the positives and $89,000 in purses were redistributed.

In explaining the decision, steward Dave Samuel said "we think there was too much damage done to other people."

Samuel said that Long's attorney, David Jones, has indicated that Long will appeal the ruling.

* Jockey Garrett Gomez won the 2,000th race of his career in Saturday's fourth race aboard the promising turf maiden winner Adalgisa. Gomez, 30, launched his career at Santa Fe Downs, New Mexico, in 1988.

* War Emblem, who acted up in the starting gate before winning the Haskell Invitational, had a practice session standing in the gate Monday morning. His next start is expected to be the Aug. 25 Pacific Classic, but Baffert has left open the possibility of going to Saratoga for the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen