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Hollywood Park to Get a Visit From Royalty

Azeri, the first reigning horse of the year to run at track in 13 years, is favored in the Milady.

May 24, 2003|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

For the first time in 13 years, a reigning horse of the year will be competing at Hollywood Park.

In 1990, Sunday Silence, the champion of 1989, made the first of his two starts as a 4-year-old in the Californian, beating, among others, Stylish Winner and Charlatan III. Then, in what turned out to be his final race, Sunday Silence finished second to Criminal Type, who went on to be horse of the year in 1990, in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Azeri, who clinched her horse-of-the-year title with an authoritative win in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, will be heavily favored in the $200,000-added Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap today in her return to Hollywood Park.

Azeri is trained by Laura de Seroux, who was an exercise rider for many years for the late Charlie Whittingham and who was around Sunday Silence for owner Michael Paulson, the son of the late Allen Paulson, who bred the mare. Azeri will carry top weight of 125 pounds in search of her ninth win in a row.

Perfect in three starts in Inglewood, including last year's Milady, the 5-year-old Jade Hunter mare will be making her first start since a narrow win over Take Charge Lady in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park last month. De Seroux expects her to move forward off that effort. Before shipping to Inglewood earlier in the week, Azeri worked five furlongs in 57 4/5 seconds at San Luis Rey.

A loser only once in 12 races, Azeri has trained well in the interim and will have only four opponents in the Milady, a Grade I at 1 1/16 miles.

Affluent, who has finished behind the favorite in five consecutive races, is back to try her again.

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The $350,000 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile has been very good to Julio Canani in recent years.

The trainer has won the Grade I three times since 1999 and he has a chance to win it again Monday with Special Ring.

Successful with Silic in 1999 and 2000 and Ladies Din a year ago, Canani is happy with the way Special Ring is preparing for his first start since he set a course record winning the Wickerr Handicap on Aug. 2 at Del Mar.

A 6-year-old gelded son of Nureyev owned by William Preston, Special Ring was reserved off the pace while wide, then kicked away in the stretch to win by two lengths in 1:32.72 for the mile on turf. This was his fourth win in seven starts in 2002, his seventh in 20 lifetime outings, and was followed by a lengthy vacation.

After the Wickerr, Canani said Special Ring was "a little off," prompting a thorough examination. Nothing was discovered initially, but a tiny fracture in the ankle of his left foreleg was eventually found.

"I was told to give him 90 days, so I gave him 150," said Canani. "He came back after the first of the year and I went very slow with him."

A disappointment when first brought to this country after beginning his career in England, Special Ring was a difficult horse to ride. He tended to run off and lug out in his races, expending his energy early and leaving him with little finish.

He turned the corner last year and was impressive in three wins at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park before the Wickerr. But Canani believes the ankle may have been bothering Special Ring all along.

Prepping for the Shoemaker, a race in which he was sixth last year after being involved in a pace duel with Orientate, the eventual sprint champion of 2002, Special Ring has trained exceptionally well, including a 46.60 half-mile move Wednesday. The work was the best of 35 at the distance that morning.

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The California Horse Racing Board said it is investigating Wednesday's second race at Hollywood Park because of the reversal of form of the winner, Flyindownbaylaurel.

Never better than seventh in her first four starts for trainer Jerry Dutton, the daughter of Alphabet Soup, who had been claimed by trainer Jeff Mullins for owner Richard Englander for $32,000 on April 10, won in her first start on the turf at 7-2.

Mullins, who has won at a high percentage all year, has moved up a lot of horses after a claim and Flyindownbaylaurel's pedigree said she would improve a lot on the turf. Many local public handicappers, in fact, picked her on top in the weak maiden race for California-bred fillies and mares.

"The CHRB is continuing to ensure that the racing industry in California benefits from the highest degree of regulatory scrutiny," CHRB chairman Roger Licht said in a statement. "The public and the individuals involved in the sport must be confident their respective interests are protected to the maximum extent of the law."

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