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BREEDERS' CUP

Tendinitis Keeps Azeri Out

October 21, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

The 20th Breeders' Cup, its star power already diluted, will have to make do without Azeri, the 2002 horse of the year who had been expected to try to win one of the rich races for the second consecutive year.

The mare, who probably would have run in the $2-million Distaff, the race she won last year at Arlington Park in suburban Chicago -- although the $4-million Classic against males was also an option -- will be recuperating from tendinitis at a Kentucky farm before the eight-race, $14-million Breeders' Cup card is run on Saturday at Santa Anita.

The 5-year-old's owner, Michael Paulson, and her trainer, Laura de Seroux, confirmed Monday that Azeri had the tendon problem in her left front leg, which also might mean the end of her career. De Seroux has recommended that Azeri be retired, but Paulson said that that decision would be made later.

Azeri's injury reduces the Distaff to seven horses, the smallest field of the day, but more significant, it deprives the Breeders' Cup of another marquee horse. Racing's so-called championship day had already been reeling from the losses of Mineshaft, Empire Maker and Candy Ride in the Classic, and the absence of four of the best 2-year-olds in the country in the Juvenile.

Mineshaft, who has been retired, is the favorite for horse of the year without even running, and Empire Maker, also retired, could be voted best 3-year-old male if neither Funny Cide nor Ten Most Wanted wins the Classic.

De Seroux had feared over the weekend, after a fast workout by Azeri Friday, that her horse was a marginal starter. Azeri was not herself at Santa Anita on Sept. 28, when her 11-race winning streak ended with a third-place finish in the Lady's Secret Handicap. The stewards moved Azeri up to second after an interference ruling.

Azeri was slow in reaching the starting gate before the Lady's Secret, did not thrust herself into the race the way she usually does, and tests later showed that she had bled from the lungs and was suffering from a high white-cell blood count.

Azeri returned to training at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall and posted two fast workouts, :45 4/5 for half a mile Oct. 11 and 1:10 1/5 for six furlongs last Friday. But Azeri was reluctant to work on Friday.

"We had to pull, prod and cajole to get her started," De Seroux said.

Azeri walked the shed row for two days, and De Seroux had hoped to gallop her on Monday. But when the trainer arrived at the barn before dawn, she found heat in the leg and slight inflammation. Joe Cannon, Azeri's veterinarian, scanned the leg and by 8 a.m. De Seroux was given the reason for Azeri's strange behavior. The diagnosis was tendinitis, and De Seroux said that Azeri was in the first stages of what could become a bowed tendon.

"I had been resigned to this for days," De Seroux said. "I know I may never get another one like this. She was the horse of a lifetime."

Paulson said Monday that he hadn't decided whether to breed Azeri next year or try to bring her back to the races. A.P. Indy, winner of the 1992 Breeders' Cup Classic, has been mentioned as a stallion, should she be bred. Azeri, who was bred by the late Allen Paulson, Michael Paulson's father, has 14 wins and two seconds in 16 starts, with purses of $3 million. In her only other defeat, she ran second to Summer Colony in the La Canada at Santa Anita in February 2002.

Paulson had wanted to run Azeri against males last year, but was dissuaded by De Seroux, and after the Lady's Secret, Paulson criticized De Seroux for not wanting to take on males in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Paulson said Monday that De Seroux remained his trainer. De Seroux said that she had six of Paulson's horses at San Luis Rey.

Sightseek, who has won four consecutive Grade I races, will be heavily favored in the Distaff and, if she wins, will clinch division honors. Others running are Take Charge Lady, Lady Tak, Elloluv, Adoration, Buy The Sport and Got Koko, who won the Lady's Secret.

"I don't know [about the division title]," Paulson said. "I hope Sightseek runs her best, and then let the voters decide."

*

Falbrav, pre-entered in both the Classic and the Turf, probably will run in the Turf when entries are taken on Wednesday.... Irish racing authorities have disallowed an appeal by Falbrav's owners after he finished second to High Chaparral in the Champion Stakes on Sept. 6.

After working half a mile in :47 1/5 at Hollywood Park, Peace Rules dumped his rider, Marco Ramirez, ran through a gap in the fence and wandered the stable area for a couple of minutes before he was caught. Peace Rules, whose workout was the fastest of 26 horses going that distance, is expected to run in the Mile instead of the Classic.

The April death of Answer Lively, winner of the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was recently disclosed. The 7-year-old suffered a heart attack.... You, second in the 2001 Juvenile Fillies, has been retired.

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