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Azeri Has Eye on a Sweet 16

Five wins from record streak, she will carry 128 pounds in Lady's Secret at Santa Anita.

September 28, 2003|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

Trainer Laura de Seroux sounds as if she'd rather see Azeri win 16 races in a row than bag another horse-of-the-year title. Maybe Azeri's good enough to do both.

The 5-year-old mare will carry 128 pounds for the first time in her 16-race career today against five opponents in the $300,000 Lady's Secret Handicap at Santa Anita.

Azeri has won three times with 127 pounds, including last year's Lady's Secret, in her 11-race win streak. The goal is the 16-race streak that Citation registered in 1948 and 1950 (he didn't run in '49), and was matched by Cigar in 1994-96.

"Cigar was horse of the year twice," De Seroux said, "yet he's best remembered for tying Citation's mark. If Azeri ever wins that many in a row, that would be an asterisk of the century, wouldn't it?"

After the Lady's Secret, one of four stakes on the opening day of the Oak Tree Racing Assn.'s Breeders' Cup meet, De Seroux and Azeri's owner, Michael Paulson, will decide whether to run their horse in the Breeders' Cup Distaff or the Classic, both scheduled for Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Azeri, who has never run against males, which is usually a strike or two against a female horse-of-the-year contender, won the Distaff last year at Arlington Park, then wrapped up the national title when Volponi, at 43-1, rained on the parade of most of the male contenders in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"Traditionally, the best male handicap horse wins the horse of the year," De Seroux said. "But who knows? We're not obsessed with winning another title, we just want to do what's right for Azeri. We'll wait until the very last moment to decide what race we're going in. It will be determined by who ships in, what Mineshaft does, and some other factors. There's no reason to commit early."

Azeri's only loss and the start of her streak came at Santa Anita. Summer Colony beat her by one length in the La Canada in February 2002, then the first of 11 in a row came a month later, in the Santa Margarita Handicap. Four of the wins have come at Hollywood Park, plus two each at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Oaklawn Park, and the Breeders' Cup win at Arlington. Mike Smith, who's riding again today, has been Azeri's only jockey.

Got Koko and Tropical Blossom, who were close to each other but ran second and third, more than three lengths behind Azeri, in the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 10, will test De Seroux's horse again today.

There's a spread of 10 pounds between Azeri and Got Koko, and Azeri is spotting the other four starters between 14 and 20 pounds.

Discussing the weights, Smith said: "When you get this high, it definitely can be a factor. When you're spotting the other horses 10 pounds or more, you're talking about a lot of weight. At 127 last time, it was relatively easy. At any time I could have blown the race open, so it gives you confidence going in, that she's carried close to 128. Hopefully, one more pound won't bother her."

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For Azeri's third straight race, there will be no show betting in the Lady's Secret Handicap.

There was also win and place betting only in her two previous starts, the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar and the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park.

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