The champion Azeri, approaching her 2002 form when she was Horse of the Year, put on a show in her first start at Keeneland while winning the $500,000 Overbrook Spinster for fillies and mares under wraps Sunday.
Shown the stick in mid-stretch by jockey Pat Day, Azeri shook off stubborn pacesetter Tamweel with less than a furlong left and cruised to a three-length victory before an appreciative Keeneland audience. She carried 123 pounds to victory, the same as five of her six opponents in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster. The final time was 1:49 3/5.
"What can you say?" asked Day. "This is a great mare. I thought she would love this racetrack and she did."
The next question for trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Michael Paulson is whether the 6-year-old Jade Hunter
mare will make her next – and probably last – appearance in the Breeders' Cup Classic or the Distaff (both gr. I) at Lone Star Park Oct. 30.
"Well, fortunately we don't have to make a decision this afternoon," Lukas said. "This is something we'll have to give a lot of thought."
Azeri was prominent early as the 2-5 choice, tracking on the outside of Tamweel and jockey Rene Douglas through solid fractions of :23 1/5, :46 4/5 and 1:11 3/5. Azeri increased the pressure on the far turn and was on even terms in upper stretch before Day asked her for a little more. After pulling away to a daylight lead she cruised home.
"She's pretty push-button," continued Day. "She's genuine. She went to the gate very focused. She broke very focused. (Tamwheel) outfooted us. We got to the outside of her and when we turned up the backside, she was in a gallop. I kept glancing over my shoulder for the opposition because I had (Tamwheel) when I wanted her."
Lukas recorded his second Spinster win. He sent out Sacahuista to win the 1987 running.
"I think she (Azeri) ranks right up there as one of the all-time best mares," said Lukas who also trained champions Serena's Song, Lady's Secret, Winning Color and Spain. "I've had some good ones, but you should always like the one you're dating. So, the one you're going home with is the one you like best."
Azeri, North America's leading money winning female Thoroughbred, joined Susan's Girl, Bayakoa, Paseana, Princess Rooney, Gallant Bloom, Lamb Chop , Primonetta, Bornastar and Doubledogdare among the long list of champions who won the Spinster.
Mayo On the Side, ridden by Robby Albarado, put away House of Fortune and Angela's Love to range into contention in third. But she was unable to quicken enough to challenge Azeri and couldn't get past Tamweel, either, settling for third one-half length behind the runner-up.
"When we turned for home and we were trying to get close, I saw Pat (Day) and Azeri in front of us and I knew it would be a difficult task," Albarado said. "I was very pleased that my mare ran a super race."
Azeri turned in a second-place finish to Storm Flag Flying in the 1 1/4-mile Personal Ensign (gr. I) in her last start at Saratoga Aug. 27. She notched her third grade I win of the season, which began in April with a victory in the Apple Blossom (gr. I) at Oaklawn Park.
Overall, she has now won 17 of 23 career starts with four seconds and earnings of $3,959,820.
She paid $2.80, $2.20 and $2.10. Tamwheel, who was second in her graded stakes debut in her last start, the Arlington Matron (gr. III), returned $4.60 and $2.10. Mayo on the Side, who hasn't won since upsetting Azeri in the Humana Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs May 1, was $2.10 to show.
One for Rose was fourth, with La Reason, Angela's Love and House of Fortune trailing.
Read more about Azeri in Women of the Year available online fromExclusivelyEquine.com!