Azeri's Streak Over; Got Koko Grabs Lady's Secret

Azeri's Streak Over; Got Koko Grabs Lady's Secret
Photo: Benoit
Got Koko, right, winning the Lady's Secret. Azeri, left, finished third but was moved up to second.
Azeri's 11-race winning streak came to a surprising halt Sunday – 27 days before the Breeders' Cup – when Got Koko rallied past the reigning Horse of the Year and went on to a half-length win in the $300,000 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita.

The champion mare Azeri, who finished third, lost for only the second time in 16 career starts. The final time was 1:42 4/5 for the 1 1/16-mile Lady's Secret. Azeri was awarded second money when Elloluv, who was second, was disqualified for interfering with Adoration, who was moved up to third. Elloluv was placed fourth.

Azeri beat Got Koko, who swept the La Canada series for fillies and mares at Santa Anita earlier this year, by 3 1/4 lengths in the Aug. 10 Clement L. Hirsch (gr. II) at Del Mar.

Got Koko, who was making only her second start since March 9, turned the tables with her fifth win in seven starts on the Santa Anita dirt.

Sunday, the 4-year-old Got Koko, who received 10 pounds from the 3-10 favorite, fell behind in the field of six, keeping Azeri, an uncustomary fifth down the backstretch, in her sights. On the turn for home, jockey Alex Solis guided the daughter of Signal Tap trained by Bruce Headley, four wide around the field. She pushed past Azeri and Elloluv and jockey Corey Nakatani in the final furlong and won driving under left-handed urging.

"When I saw Azeri back there (in the field), I thought I had a good chance," Solis said. "I knew my filly has a tremendous late kick. Getting that weight was a big advantage, but my filly made it work. The pace was perfect; it was just right. And then my filly ran her race. She is so special.''

Headley said Azeri, who shouldered a career-high 128 pounds, just had a bad day while his horse was ready to pounce.

"We all know Alex [Solis] is a great athlete and he knows this filly well," Headley said. "It looks like he had the race down to the last step. We're going on to the Breeders' Cup from here."

Elloluv collared Adoration in the stretch after that rival stalked front-running Royally Chosen through solid fractions of :23 2/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 1/5.

Azeri, ridden by regular rider Mike Smith, was slow into stride and Smith guided her to the inside early as she stalked the pace. She ranged up three wide on the turn, but lacked any punch in the lane, edging into third a length ahead of Adoration, who took up in the stretch when Elloluv veered in after getting to the front. Azeri, who had no apparent excuse, was 2 1/4 lengths behind the winner.

"She broke really sluggishly, but that's not unusual for her," Smith said. "When that happened, they were kind of looking for her and they were going to carry me out. I thought, 'Well, I'll just tuck in behind them and save ground, and I'll be able to wheel out of there any time I want. That's what I did, and I got her out there in plenty of time to get her running, but I just couldn't get her running.

"She galloped out good after the race and acted like she was ready now, but it was a little too late. The only thing that was unusual is that she was real quiet in the post parade. She's usually on her toes."

Trainer Laura de Seroux said she was surprised Azeri didn't go after her opposition, but added, "I still lover her."

"We'll just have to take her back to the barn and see how she is and make sure there's no reason for it," de Seroux said. "We didn't see her customary break, smooch to her and go style, and I would have preferred to see that no matter what the perceived competition was. I think she's pretty grooved into that style."

Azeri's only other loss came when she finished a length behind Summer Colony in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita in February 2002. She began her winning streak a month later with a three-length win over Spain in the Santa Margarita Handicap (gr. I).

Azeri picked up $60,000 for the runner-up finish, pushing her career earnings to $3,044,820. She passed Lady's Secret, the last filly or mare to win Horse of the Year, to be second all time among female earners. Spain is the leader at $3,540,542.

Elloluv tired, Nakatani said.

''She just got a little tired and drifted in a little bit. I didn't think they (stewards) were going to do anything. My filly ran big off that layoff. It was just what we wanted. She'll move forward off that race.''

Got Koko earned $180,000 for her owners Aase Headley and Paul Leung with her seventh win in 13 starts. Got Koko was a 2000 September Keeneland $30,000 purchase. She now has career earnings of $710,946.

Sent off as the 5-1 second choice, the winner paid $12 and $2.10. Azeri returned $2.10. There was no show wagering.

(Chart, Equibase)

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