Horseplayers at Laurel may have trouble pronouncing Leo Azpurua, but the trainer nonetheless is making a name for himself on the Maryland circuit.

With a nine-horse stable, Azpurua (pronounced Ahz-pur-U-uh) has won five of 12 races at Laurel since he arrived in late October. The number would have been six had front-running long shot Big Bay Cruiser not unseated jockey Bryan Antley in the stretch at Laurel Nov. 7.

"Let's just say it was an unfortunate mishap," said Azpurua, 27. "The horse trained very well up to the race -- superb -- and, at 70 to 1, I went ahead and played him myself; something very minor, maybe $20 across the board."

A prospective $145.20 win mutuel and $8,400 winning purse slipped away when Antley fell near the half-furlong marker. But Azpurua wasn't sidetracked; in his subsequent start, Big Bay Cruiser cruised to a two-length victory -- as 2-to-1 favorite -- and the trainer has continued to win consistently.

Despite his quick ascent, Azpurua managed to sneak one past his rivals Monday. Mafayury K., a 2-year-old filly, debuted in the third race for Laurel's rock-bottom maiden claiming price of $6,500. The 6-to-5 favorite, Mafayury K. galloped to a 7 1/2-length victory in 1:13 4/5 for six furlongs. In the following race, $30,000 maiden 2-year-old fillies went in 1:14 1/5.

"She belongs to my uncle {Edward Azpurua}. I told him we might be taking a very big chance running this filly for $6,500," Azpurua said. "But she has her problems -- all horses do -- and he said to me, 'Leo, if they take her, God bless them.' I was delighted she wasn't claimed."

Azpurua, a Venezuelan-born son of trainer Leo Azpurua Sr., had several reasons to bring his stable here from Louisiana Downs. "First," Azpurua said, "Mr. {Frank} De Francis and his partners have invested a great deal of money in improving racing in Maryland. You also have the Maryland Million, a very healthy purse structure, access to other racetracks and year-round racing.

"Louisiana Downs closed on Oct. 18, and I had an option of going to Hialeah -- and receiving 20 stalls -- or coming here. But I was thinking long-term. I'm getting married in 10 days, and I'm looking for a place to settle down."

Jose Ferrer, who has ridden in Maryland since late October, said he will return to Philadelphia Park today. "I didn't get too much of an opportunity here," Ferrer said. "I don't know why more {trainers} weren't using me. I don't have too many friends here, and my home is {in Cherry Hill, N.J.}, so it seems best if I just go back."

Ferrer had 11 winners over 40 days at Laurel, but only two since Nov. 24 . . .

Trainer Harris Desormeaux, father of national riding leader Kent Desormeaux, has come to Laurel from Louisiana with three horses.