02/16/2002 1:00AM

Zito, Buckram Oak just miss double


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Saturday was a day of mixed emotions for trainer Nick Zito and the Buckram Oak Stable. The afternoon started on a high note when American Style, trained by Zito and owned by Buckram Oak, upset Legislator and Monarchooftheglen, the two favorites, in the fourth race, an allowance race for 3-year-olds. But their Florida Derby hopeful High Star lost the ninth race, another 3-year-old allowance, by a nose.

American Style ($12), making his first start since being transferred to Zito's barn shortly after his 3-year-old debut last month, rated off the pace and then slipped through along the rail to outfinish the $1.5 million yearling purchase Monarchoftheglen, with Legislator third. Both Monarchoftheglen and Legislator had their chances compromised by slow starts.

High Star was reserved off an extremely slow pace in the ninth race, which scratched down from seven to only four starters. He remained trapped behind the leaders around the second turn, eased out at the head of the stretch, and rallied through the final furlong. He appeared to have won in the final stride, but the photo finish camera said otherwise, with longshot Mountain Forum ($24.60) winning the head bob.

"That was heartbreaking," said Zito. "I thought we won. He should have won. The pace was ridiculous. Who knows how fast [High Star] went the last eighth. He was flying. He must have gone 10 and change for the final furlong. I know he's a top horse, although you'd really like to go into the Florida Derby off a win."

Zito said he would assess the result of the Fountain of Youth before deciding what would be next for both High Star and American Style.

Trainers Niall O'Callaghan and H. James Bond said the Florida Derby was unlikely for Monarchoftheglen and Legislator, respectively.

"He's a slow-developing colt and I don't want to be sending him to war too quickly," Bond said of Legislator, who was an impressive winner of his only previous start, on the turf. "We'll probably go to another allowance race and just hope he breaks a little better the next time."

Azeff moved to rehab facility

Nearly three weeks after being seriously injured when a horse fell on her, Yvonne Azeff was moved to a rehabilitation facility in Delray, Fla.

John Ward Jr., for whom Azeff works as an assistant trainer, said Azeff was moved late Friday night to Pinecrest Rehabilitation Center.

"We wanted to get her the best, and fortunately the insurance company and everybody came through," Ward said Saturday morning.

Azeff was hospitalized in a coma on Jan. 26 after a pony fell on her during training hours. She made significant progress this past week. A tracheal tube was removed, and she spoke her first words since the accident.

Ward said that when he visited Azeff on Friday, she said "Booklet" when he walked in. Booklet won the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Saturday.

Smok'n Frolic to make return

Trainer Todd Pletcher has confirmed that Smok'n Frolic, who closed out her 2-year-old campaign with victories in the Tempted and Demoiselle stakes, will launch her

3-year-old season in Sunday's Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

"In a perfect world I'd rather start her back going seven furlongs rather than a mile and one-sixteenth," Pletcher said. "But to have a horse do well during the summer and fall we knew she needed a bit of a break, so I gave her some time off, and to make the Bonnie Miss Stakes, which is our main goal at this meet, this was the best spot to get her a prep."

The Grade 2, $250,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes is on March 15.

"She's a slightly made filly so we have to monitor her weight carefully and can't train her very hard," said Pletcher. "But she's a very willing worker and thus far all of her works are good. Ultimately we hope she'll prove to be good enough to deserve a chance to compete in the [Kentucky Oaks] later this spring."

Pletcher also reported that Tugger came out of Friday's Shirley Jones Handicap in good order. Tugger tired badly after disputing the early pace with Raging Fever and finished seventh in the Grade 3 dash.

"They just went too fast early, which was what I was afraid of," said Pletcher. "She's the kind of horse who gets kind of brave when she makes the lead, and I was hoping Raging Fever might back off the pace a bit, but instead they went head to head in 21 and change and 44."

Pletcher said he is uncertain what would be next for Tugger, although he mentioned the $100,000 Hurricane Bertie Stakes here March 17 as a possible option.

Taking the conservative route

While Smok'n Frolic has been confirmed as a starter for the Davona Dale, trainer Shug McGaughey said he has no such plans for his promising 3-year-old filly On Parade.

"I'm going to run her back in an allowance race to get her a little more experience, and if she runs well then look at the Bonnie Miss," McGaughey said.

On Parade, a homebred daughter of Storm Cat and My Flag, was stakes placed while making just two starts at 2, and finished a wide-running second in her 3-year-old debut here last month.

McGaughey was still accepting congratulations Saturday morning for Cat Cay's victory Friday in the Shirley Jones. Cat Cay rallied from last to outfinish Raging Fever in the final strides.

"She tried to hang right at the end, the same way she did when she beat Tugger going a mile in New York [in the Top Flight Handicap]," McGaughey said. "Luckily she had enough momentum to get by her at the end."

Windsor Castle to prep again

Windsor Castle, who returned from a lengthy layoff and ran third in a fast allowance sprint last month, is scheduled to race next weekend in another allowance race, said trainer Frank Alexander. Alexander said he hopes the race will serve as a prep for next month's Creme Fraiche Handicap.

"We're going to have a long year with him, hopefully," Alexander said.

The Creme Fraiche, for older horses, is run on the undercard of the Florida Derby on March 16.

Blazing Fury easing back

Blazing Fury, who was third in the Hollywood Turf Cup after finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf, has just returned to training at Payson Park after getting a vacation, trainer James Toner said.

"We looked at the Breeders' Cup this year and worked backwards from there," Toner said. "He's just been jogging. He hasn't even started galloping yet. I'm looking to run him the opening week at Belmont, then point for the Manhattan."

The Manhattan Handicap, a Grade 1 event, is run June 8, on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Another Payson resident nearing a return after a lengthy absence is the Elliott Walden-trained Elite Mercedes, who has not raced since last summer's Fourstardave Handicap at Saratoga.

"He's about six weeks away from a race," Walden said. "He pulled a muscle behind."

* A visitor at Payson Park this week was legendary French trainer Alec Head, who was a guest of Christophe Clement.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman