To hear Laura De Seroux tell it, Azeri is almost human.
Maybe that’s why the 50-year-old trainer was in tears when she went to the track to greet the love of her thoroughbred life, after Azeri won the Lady’s Secret Breeders’ Cup Handicap by 3Â½ lengths under 127 pounds, establishing herself as the most prohibitive favorite on Breeders’ Cup day at Arlington Park on Oct. 26.
The chestnut daughter of Jade Hunter could be odds-on when she goes postward in the $2 million Distaff at a mile and one eighth.
“I’ve cried before, when she won the Apple Blossom (at Oaklawn Park on April 6),” De Seroux said. “I cried because she’s so wonderful and I don’t know if I’ll have my hands on something like this ever again. I’m so in awe of her and I love her so much. She’s very gentle, very loving and very tuned in to the people who care for her. She’s a great communicator.”
Azeri, a 4-year-old homebred filly owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, has won nine of 10 starts. She has won twice at a mile and an eighth and won all her races by at least 1Â¾ lengths. Her lone defeat was by a length to Summer Colony in the one and one eighth-mile La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita last Feb. 9.
Jockey Mike Smith, who has ridden Azeri in all her races, takes blame for the loss to Summer Colony, whose luster diminished with a dull and distant third in last Saturday’s Beldame Stakes.
“She stumbled real bad,” Smith said of Azeri in the La Canada, “and when she got up, I heard a ”˜pow’ and I grabbed a hold of her and almost pulled her out of the race. But she got lined out again and came running. It was her first time around two turns, the other mare is a seasoned mare, and we only got beat a length.”
Azeri has looked vulnerable several times, but she has reeled off six consecutive victories, all by daylight margins.
“As she’s matured and come away from the gate cleaner each time,” De Seroux said, “she gets into gear a little earlier than she used to. Before, she was very gangly and very leggy and it took her a while to really settle into stride. But now she comes away from there very together. I know Azeri can get headed, but Mike kind of let it happen (in the Lady’s Secret), but he let her out a notch and she took off. I’m sure he was trying to be as conservative as possible because we have a race in three weeks and she was carrying 127 pounds. I’m just delighted. He geared her down at the end.”
Of the Distaff contenders-Take Charge Lady, Summer Colony, Dancethruthedawn, Imperial Gesture, Mandy’s Gold, Allamerican Bertie, You and Farda Amiga, only the latter would seem to pose a serious late threat to Azeri in the Distaff.
But De Seroux, who possesses the refreshingly unique quality of talking in complete sentences, is respectful but unfazed with her competition.
“I’m never bullish,” said the protege of the late Charlie Whittingham. “But I do have a lot of confidence and believe in Azeri. I think she’s faster than the fillies on the East Coast, and they’re all going to be carrying equal weights (126 pounds in the Distaff).”
PIENSA SONANDO: Chilean-bred closed strongly from last to finish third against Resolve and ill-fated Siphonic in U.S. debut. Should find winner’s circle pronto.
STRATEGICALLY: Son of Bertrando looked like a million bucks on the track and ran accordingly for Bruce Headley. Will keep winning in present form.
SULLIVANITIS: Emerald Downs invader set pace, hung tough finishing third down the hill for $62,500 while breaking from No. 10 post. Can win with better draw.
THE HOMESTRETCH: The tragic death of Grade I winner Siphonic after he finished second by a head at Santa Anita on opening day was like losing someone near and dear for owners John and Jerry Amerman. “They loved this horse,” trainer David Hofmans said of the son of 1997 Santa Anita Handicap winner Siphon, who died of an apparent heart attack in the receiving barn after the race. “He was at their farm when he was turned out. They picked him out at the sale and bought him and had him since he was a baby, so it was hard. It was like losing a family member.”
Eddie Delahoussaye is recovering from a spill at Del Mar on Aug. 30 that could force him into early retirement. “I’ve had a lot of spills,” the 51-year-old Hall of Fame jockey said, “but I never hit the ground that hard before in my life. It’s taking time, but I’m starting to heal. I have a lot of problems with my neck. I was supposed to start therapy last week but a month after the spill, I discovered I had a fractured tooth underneath my bridge, and the doctor said it had to be from the spill, because the impact was so hard. I’m doing OK. It’s just going to take some time, and the doctor figured about three months, if everything goes right. If things don’t come back into place, then I’ll decide whether I’m going to continue riding or not. But I’m not going to push the issue.”
Jeff Bridges soaked in the racing atmosphere at Santa Anita on opening day. The actor will play Charles Howard, owner of Seabiscuit, in the film, “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” which Universal begins shooting on location at Santa Anita on Nov. 22. A screen legend, Fay Wray, visited Santa Anita last Thursday and took part in winner’s circle ceremonies. Now a white-haired nonagenarian confined to a wheel chair, Miss Wray was the blonde dish who was held in the hand of the great animated ape atop the Empire State Building in the 1933 classic, “King Kong.”