Distaff Update (10/8): Azeri Versus the East

The Breeders' Distaff actually is quite simple this year: Azeri vs. the East. That's basically all you need to know. If you like Azeri and believe she's the apparent superstar that has been beating up on all those poor Californians all year, then the East matters little, except for an exotic wager or two.

If, however, you believe that the Eastern fillies and mares have been running against much tougher competition all year and are waiting to stick it to Azeri, much like Summer Colony did on Azeri's home court ealier in the year, then you must choose among five top-class fillies.

After last weekend's big preps, 3-year-olds Take Charge Lady and Imperial Gesture have made quite a case for their generation with emphatic victories in the Spinster Stakes and Beldame Stakes, respectively. You also have the seldom seen 3-year-old Farda Amiga, winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes heading to Chicago. Add Mandy's Gold and Summer Colony, who both ran well when finishing second and third, respectively, in the Beldame, and you've got a very strong and fascinating Distaff.

Azeri, who did win the grade I Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn in her only venture outside California, was her usual dominating self in last Wednesday's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup, just toying with her opposition and winning under wraps. The daughter of Jade Hunter seems to have found a home on the lead in her last four starts, but she'll most likely have to go back to her stalking style in the Distaff to avoid a confrontation with Godolphin's Imperial Gesture, who has developed into a deadly frontrunner with a high cruising speed.

Although the daughter of Langfuhr was slowing down at the end of the Beldame, she is capable of inflicting a lot of damage on anyone who wants a piece of her early. Even with the slow final fractions she still defeated two top-class older fillies by nearly three lengths. And she would have come home faster had she not slowed down to take a deep breath passing the three-eighths pole.

"It seems she's just getting better and better," said assistant trainer Tom Albertrani. "She trained very hard catching up. Right now, she is just peaking. Hopefully, we can keep it together for another three weeks. We were kind of gutted in the Kentucky Oaks when she got banged at the start. She lost a lot of weight after that race and we had to start all over with her. We didn't really know how long it would take us to get her back. We finally got her ready for August, and she came down with colic in Saratoga. It wasn't serious, and we were able to get her into a race 10 days later. It wasn't that much of a setback. She is really coming into her own right now. Hopefully, this race didn't take too much out of her."

Imperial Gesture will be the last of the Distaff contenders to arrive at Arlington, flying on Thursday, Oct. 24 with the remainder of the Belmont-based Godolphin horses. Azeri gets in on Oct. 22 and Summer Colony the following day.

Mandy's Gold, who has remarkably converted from front-running sprinter to come-from-behind route horse, showed her victory in the Ruffian Handicap was no fluke, as she made up a ton of ground in the stretch and caught Summer Colony for second, which is quite an achievement in itself. Summer Colony has an atrocious record going one turn, so this should set her up beautifully for the Distaff.

Take Charge Lady improved her record to four-for-four at Keeneland when she shot through along the rail to win the Spinster by 2 1/2 lengths over another classy 3-year-old, You. The daughter of Dehere is a stalker, and she showed the kind of acceleration she'll need in the Distaff.

Bobby Frankel said You, who battled back gamely after being passed by the winner, will not run in the Distaff, and will be pointed for races next year.

If there is to be a European challenge in the Distaff it likely will come from the Dermot Weld-trained Dress to Thrill, winner of her last four starts, including the group II Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket in her last start. She is by Danehill, out of the Affirmed mare Trusted Partner. Weld still hasn't decided whether to try for the Distaff or the Mile.

Top Five Contenders

Horse/Trainer/Owner

1-- Azeri/ Laura de Seroux/Allen Paulson Living Trust
2 -- Summer Colony/Mark Hennig/Edward Evans
3 -- Take Charge Lady/Kenny McPeek/Select Stable
4 -- Mandy's Gold/Michael Gorham/Steeplechase Farm
5 -- Imperial Gesture/Saeed bin Suroor/Godolphin

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