Vindication’s loss could reunite Azeri-Smith duo

Feb 11, 2003 2:53 AM

What goes around comes around.

No sooner was Mike Smith jettisoned from Vindication in favor of Jerry Bailey for doing nothing worse than being perfect on the 2-year-old champion colt, than Vindication was announced off the Triple Crown trail with an injury to his left front suspensory.

Even though trainer Bob Baffert took Smith off the unbeaten son of Seattle Slew, nice guy that he is, an injury is the last thing Smith would have wished on Vindication.

Vindication’s injury was no shock to those on the scene at Santa Anita’s backstretch. Whispers that the $2.15 million colt wasn’t right began soon after he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last Oct. 26.

"He’s been galloping around the track the wrong way," one noted clocker commented early on. When Baffert extended Vindication’s workout schedule beyond the standard six days after he worked five furlongs in a bullet :58.40 on Jan. 25, it was a fait accompli.

On the morning of Feb. 5, 12 days after Vindication’s last workout, I asked Baffert at his barn about the colt’s status. "I’m not talking about Vindication," he barked. "I’ve got no comment today about nothing." Turned out that was Baffert’s tip of the iceberg.

The next day, after I made Baffert’s comments public, his fit hit the fan. The story of Vindication’s injury was all over the Internet.

Mike Smith, meanwhile, received a wonderful message a few days after he was dismissed from Vindication, when it was announced that pending litigation for the Allen Paulson Living Trust was resolved, eliminating the sale of Horse of the Year Azeri, among others, on March 4. Smith is Azeri’s’ regular rider.

"That sure was some great news," said Smith, who also was bounced from Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Composure by Baffert. "I talked to Laura (trainer Laura DeSeroux) and she told me all about it. I was all excited. It’s nice to get some good news. I’ve really been kind of worried about Azeri being sold."

Azeri’s serious training has been on hold at San Luis Rey Downs, where DeSeroux is headquartered. There’s a diminishing chance the five-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter could return at Santa Anita as early as March 9 in Santa Margarita Handicap, but the most logical spot is the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 5. Beyond that, a race against males could be in the offing.

"Azeri has been in light training but they can’t do any serious work, from what I understand, until the judge signs the agreement, and that can take up to a month," Smith said. "Hopefully, they can get that done a little sooner and start getting her ready for wherever we decide to run her. If they get it signed soon, she could probably run at Santa Anita. If not, they’d probably have to go on to Oaklawn, from what I understand."

Azeri has earned $2,227,740 in compiling 10 wins from 11 starts, all against her own sex, but Smith is confident she will race against male rivals.

"I’m excited about the prospect," he said. "She’s probably going to have to, because she’ll be outweighted for a lot of these (filly and mare) races, so I’m really looking forward to it. I believe she belongs, I really do. Only someone who has been on her can tell you how great she is. She gives you the feeling that she’s a very special horse."

Smith, as are other proponents of common sense, remains perplexed over Azeri’s detractors, who went to extremes in their attempts to proselytize their peers into voting for less-deserving stock for Horse of the Year.

"I don’t understand who it would be, if not Azeri," Smith said. "Even the one flaw (loss) in her form shouldn’t have been. If she doesn’t stumble in that race (the La Canada) and hit herself, she never loses (to Summer Colony, a filly she trounced in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff), and she’d have been perfect.

"They said she just kept beating the West Coast horses, but she went to Oaklawn Park and won the Apple Blossom, beating one of the best fillies on the East Coast (Miss Linda), then went back to the Breeders’ Cup and not only won it, but dominated. I could see if she barely won how there could be some doubt, but it was no contest.

"In fact, I was kind of hoping we’d wheel right back in the Classic," Smith said, laughing.

Good to see he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

***

Southern California-based 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown Trail

Rated by ED GOLDEN

Horse Trainer Next Race Comment

1--Kafwain Baffert March 16 San Felipe Vindicates Vindication

2--Domestic Dispute Baffert San Felipe Baffert’s backup

3--Man Among Men G. Mandella Mar. 8 El C’mo Derby Sham win no sham

4--Empire Maker Frankel Undecided Matured in Sham

5--Atswh’t’mtalkn’bout Ellis Allowance Learning as he goes

6--Siberland Owens March 1 San Rafael Returns from (Turf) Paradise

7--Minister’s Wild Cat Drysdale Undecided (tk) Golden Gate Mile

8--Omega Code W. Ward San Rafael Distance limitations

9--Midas Eyes Frankel Undecided Another Medaglia d’Oro?

10-Ten Most Wanted W. Dollase Undecided Slammed at start in Sham

11-Robledo Cerin San Felipe Dark horse on the rise?