Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, arrived at D. Wayne Lukas' Santa Anita barn Dec. 28 to begin training toward a 2004 campaign. "She showed a lot of energy, so she went to the track and jogged lightly with the pony this morning," the Hall of Fame trainer said Monday.
Azeri was held out from the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) when her former trainer, Laura de Seroux, detected heat in her left front leg Oct. 20. At the time, de Seroux characterized the injury as acute tendonitis.
Michael Paulson, who campaigns Azeri in the name of his late father's Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, noted that Azeri was examined by Lexington's Rood & Riddle clinic Oct. 27. "They saw no tendonitis, no fibers out of alignment. I don't know how she could go from a pretty good inflammation to nothing, zero, in one week," said Paulson. "It tells me the earlier report was skewed somehow."
Paulson took exception to reports that Azeri had bowed a tendon. "There was no bowed tendon. We have given her 75 days' rest. We have received independent ultrasound exam reports, one from Rood & Riddle and one from Hagyard-Davidson-McGee, that show Azeri is fully sound to return to training.
"As long as she is sound and fit for racing, I believe her place is on the racetrack. We bred her to run. Everybody says racing is risky, but we've lost more mares in the birthing process than we have as racehorses, by a longshot. By our experience, being a broodmare is riskier."
If all goes well with Azeri's training, Lukas said it was possible she would return in April to the Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I), a race she won in 2003. He also held out the possibility Azeri could face colts down the line.
Lukas has conditioned Serena's Song, Lady's Secret, and Winning Colors to stakes wins against males.
"I don't have any grandiose ideas I'm going to improve her," noted Lukas. "I'd just like to keep here where she was."
Paulson added that one of his goals was to get Azeri the earnings record for fillies and mares. She is currently in fifth place on that list with $3,044,820 in the bank, about a half-million behind the leading Spain.
"That would be nice because then my father would have bred both the male (Cigar) and female top money-earners in North America.
"We don't have to prove anything," added Paulson. "What did Kelso have to prove after his first Horse of the Year title? Did they say, 'That's fine, that's plenty?' No, they won five. Why didn't Tiger Woods retire after winning all the majors? People want to see greatness. Hopefully it will work out because she adds an exciting dimension. And I know she'll enjoy racing more than being a broodmare."