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Lukas: Azeri above others

Jan 14, 2003 12:37 AM

There are those who would have you believe that Rock of Gibraltar, a horse that did not win a race in the United States, should be American Horse of the Year.

What are those folks smoking, anyway?

Bob Baffert got it right when he said, "Rock of Gibraltar as Horse of the Year? Give me a break. Whoever voted like that should have their vote taken away after selecting a horse who has never won in this country."

Even War Emblem deserves Horse of the Year over Rock of Gibraltar. At least War Emblem won two legs of the Triple Crown, not to mention the Haskell, before deflating.

Azeri’s selection as Horse of the Year became a no-brainer after she annihilated her rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and the male contenders for the crown shot themselves in the foot by not winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. I said so in no uncertain terms after the Breeders’ Cup last Oct. 26. I’m saying it again now.

When the winners are announced on Jan. 27 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Azeri will be crowned Horse of the Year. She already is the unanimous selection as top older filly or mare. Somehow, even voters with flawed thinking couldn’t dismiss her dominating performances over her peers.

But don’t take my word that Azeri will be Horse of the Year. Take if from D. Wayne Lukas. He’s been there before.

"She had the best year, probably, but ideally, to really cement her chances, it would have been good if she stepped out of her division, or, run more out of the state of California," said Lukas, who trained the last female to be named Horse of the Year, Lady’s Secret in 1986. "When you go coast-to-coast, your chances increase.

"But having said that, Azeri is in a very similar situation as Lady’s Secret was. Of course, Lady’s Secret won the Whitney (defeating males), which was a hell of a feat.

"But when the Breeders’ Cup (Classic) was run, a lot of the horses that were in contention for Horse of the Year didn’t do well, so I don’t think there’s any question Azeri will get it."

***

Following are other Eclipse Award nominees and my selections:

Two-year-old colt or gelding: Sky Mesa, Toccet, Vindication. Like I said about Vindication before the Juvenile, he’s a cinch.

Two-year-old filly: Awesome Humor, Storm Flag Flying. Only a Chicago vote count could prevent ”˜Storm’ from a landslide victory.

Three-year-old colt or gelding: Came Home, Medaglia d’Oro, War Emblem. Came Home comes up short, Medaglia d’Oro won only one Grade I race, War Emblem danced all the dances and cha cha-ed home in the Derby and the Preakness, enough to win.

Three-year-old filly: Farda Amiga, Imperial Gesture, Take Charge Lady: Weak crop; Farda Amiga by a nose.

Older colt, horse or gelding: Left Bank, Street Cry, Volponi. The first two are dead, but Classic upsetter Volponi won’t win anyway. He’d get my vote, though. Street Cry posthumously.

Sprinter: Left Bank, Orientate, Xtra Heat. Orientate by daylight.

Male turf horse: High Chaparral, Rock of Gibraltar, With Anticipation. OK, now it’s time for a piece of the Rock.

Female turf horse: Astra, Golden Apples, Starine: Troubled loss in Breeders’ Cup won’t tarnish ”˜Golden’s’ overall record. She outbobs Starine..

Steeplechase: Flat Top, It’s a Giggle, Mcdynamo. I lost track of jumpers when they stopped running at Delaware Park.

Owner: Richard Englander, Juddmonte Farms, The Thoroughbred Corp. All deserving, but sentimental vote gives it to The Thoroughbred Corp.

Breeder: Edward Evans, Juddmonte Farms, Harry T. Mangurian, Allen E. Paulson: Worthy candidates, edge to Juddmonte.

Jockey: Jerry Bailey, Edgar Prado, Mike Smith, John Velasquez: Bailey is 1-5, like the horses he rides.

Apprentice jockey: Francisco Duran, Ryan Fogelsonger, John McKee. McKee’s the one for me.

Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Laura De Seroux, Bobby Frankel. Frankel three-peats, proving it’s not a popularity vote.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Move over Fusaichi Pegasus. Neil Drysdale has another monster 3-year-old on his hands in the form of Minister’s Wild Cat, a bay son of Deputy Minister-Hollywood Wildcat who broke his maiden by seven lengths geared down at Santa Anita on Saturday. But the Hall of Fame trainer says outside of potential, there’s not much to compare between Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the 2000 Kentucky Derby, and Minister’s Wild Cat. "Minister’s Wild Cat is well-behaved," Drysdale said. ”˜Pegasus’ had a mind of his own when it came to training, and put on a show during training hours at Churchill Downs before going on to win the Run for the Roses with authority.