Reigning Horse of the Year Azeri will carry 128 pounds, the highest impost of her storied career, and spot her rivals at least 10 pounds apiece in the $300,000 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) Sunday at Santa Anita.The Lady's Secret is one of four Breeders' Cup preview stakes as the Oak Tree Racing Association unfurls its 35th season at Santa Anita Park in grand style.
Azeri's trainer Laura de Seroux is on record as saying she thinks Azeri can spot 10 pounds to her rivals in the Lady's Secret and beat them.
But Mike Smith, Azeri's Hall of Fame jockey who has ridden the 5-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter in all 15 of her races (14 of them victories with one second), had some reservations.
"When you get up that high (128 pounds) it definitely can be a factor," Smith said at Santa Anita Wednesday morning. "When you're spotting a horse 10 pounds and more, you're talking about a lot of weight. You've got to take it into consideration."
Azeri won the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar on Aug. 10 under 127 pounds, winning by 3 ¼ lengths over Got Koko and Tropical Blossom, two of her rivals in the Lady's Secret.
"She's been carrying 127 and her last race was relatively easy," Smith said. "At any time I could have blown the race open, so it gives you confidence going in (to the Lady's Secret) that she's carried close to 128. Hopefully, one more pound won't bother her."
Through default or otherwise, the majority of Azeri's victories have come on the front end, although she did come from well off the pace to win the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) for the second consecutive year on April 5. With speedster Elloluv in the Lady's Secret, Azeri may not get the early lead. That doesn't concern Smith.
"I've never thought she had to be on the lead," Smith said. "If you look at her races, she's come from anywhere. She's come from last, she's laid right off them, I've been inside of horses, outside of them, it doesn't really matter."Azeri blew out four furlongs Tuesday in :47 3/5 at her San Luis Rey Downs training headquarters and was due at Santa Anita on Thursday. The chestnut mare owned by Allen E. Paulson Living Trust has earned $2,984,820 and a victory in the Lady's Secret would put her over the $3 million mark.ESPN will televise live the Lady's Secret (3:12 p.m. PDT) and the Yellow Ribbon Stakes (3:44 p.m.).Probable for the Lady's Secret: Adoration, Pat Valenzuela, 114; Azeri, Smith, 128; Elloluv, Corey Nakatani, 114; Got Koko, Alex Solis, 118; and Tropical Blossom, Julie Krone, 108. Elloluv worked four furlongs on Santa Anita's fast main track Wednesday in :48 4/5 for trainer Craig Dollase.