Countdown to the Cup: Will Azeri Tackle the Boys?
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 9/16/2004 10:25:05 AM
Last Updated: 10/13/2004 1:42:48 PM

Azeri: will she face males in the Breeders' Cup Classic?
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Although there are still several major preps remaining for the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I), the leading players are pretty well set, with Pleasantly Perfect, Ghostzapper, and Birdstone all heading straight for Texas. But there is still one player – former Horse of the Year Azeri -- who could add a whole new dimension to the race.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Michael Paulson are leaving their options open, and will wait to see how Azeri performs in Keeneland's Overbrook Spinster Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 10 before deciding whether to try for the Classic or stay with the fillies in the Distaff (gr. I).

Following Azeri's defeat at the hands of Storm Flag Flying in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) at Saratoga, several jockey agents, believing Lukas and Paulson were not exactly thrilled with Pat Day's ride, began smelling blood and moved in for the kill.

But in the end, it is Day who will remain on Azeri. Paulson, meanwhile, has been on a cruise, and said he and Lukas would discuss the matter when he returns. First, they want to get past the Spinster, after which they'll give serious consideration to the Classic.

"We're going to stick with Pat," Lukas said. "Right now, there are several reasons why the Classic is being considered. We already have Stellar Jayne for the Distaff. And the way (Paulson) might be looking at it, Azeri has already won the Distaff, she's already gotten the money title, and it's just a question whether he wants to step up and dare to be great. Those are the things we'll be discussing after he returns."

As for Stellar Jayne, who fought back to win the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I), Lukas feels she is the divisional leader at the moment, having won two grade Is and finishing second in two grade Is. And also that she and Ashado are "two-and-two" against each other. Following the Breeders' Cup, the daughter of Wild Rush will be sold at the Keeneland November sale. Ashado has also won two grade Is and finished second in two grade Is, while Society Selection has won two grade Is and finished second in one, so there is no doubt this will be a tight race to wire.

One of those looking to get the mount on Azeri was Angel Cordero Jr., agent for John Velazquez, who is coming off a record-setting Saratoga meet. But when no arrangements could be made after nine days, and the mount came open on Whitney (gr. I) winner Roses in May, Cordero took the mount. Velazquez will ride Roses in May in Saturday's Kentucky Cup Classic (gr. II).

"I would have loved the chance to have Johnny ride Azeri," Cordero said. "But I'm excited about riding Roses in May, and I'm hoping he runs a big race on Saturday. I'd love to go to the Classic with a good mount and give Johnny a chance to win an Eclipse Award."

The Classic is shaping up as a competitive race. In addition to Pleasantly Perfect, Ghostzapper, Birdstone, Roses in May, and Saint Liam (who may also go to Lone Star without a prep), there is Funny Cide, who will run next in either the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) or Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II). If he runs in the latter, he'll face last year's winner Perfect Drift, who looks like a live dark horse for the Classic. In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, would likely run into Evening Attire, The Cliff's Edge, and Peace Rules among others. Another race to keep an eye on is the Meadowlands Cup, which could attract Dynever and the Bobby Frankel pair of Powerful Touch and Toccet. The latter also is scheduled to be sold at the Keeneland November sale.

Possibilities for the Goodwood Handicap (gr. II) include Choctaw Nation, Even the Score, Total Impact, Supah Blitz, and Domestic Dispute. Total Impact and Domestic Dispute could also head to Hawthorne if their connections decide 1 1/4 miles is more desirable.

The last remaining race strictly for 3-year-olds is the Super Derby (gr. II) at Louisiana Downs Sept. 25. Heading that race will be California invaders Imperialism and Borrego, who ran a bang-up second in a swiftly run El Cajon Stakes in his return recently.

Getting back to Saint Liam, who was the second rocket launched by trainer Rick Dutrow in a five-day period. Earlier, Dutrow lit the fuse on a lightly-raced colt named Love of Money, in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II). The son of Saint Ballado, coming off only three career sprints, none in stakes, buried a competitive field of proven stakes horses by 8 1/2 lengths. Then came Saint Liam, who, despite not having run in five months, would have engineered an identical massacre in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) had Ghostzapper not run his guts out to beat him on the wire in 1:46 1/5, with a gap of 9 1/4 lengths back to the third horse.

In the latest William Hills odds in England, Pleasantly Perfect is the 2-1 favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic, followed by Birdstone and Ghostzapper at 6-1. At 12-1 is the French-based Bago, winner of his first six career starts, including the group I Grand Prix de Paris and Prix Jean Prat. Also at 12-1 is Perfect Drift and Roses in May. Evening Attire is at 14-1, with The Cliffs Edge and Victory Moon at 16-1. Rock Hard Ten, who likely is through for the year, is quoted at 20-1, followed by Choctaw Nation, Dynever, Eddington, Funny Cide, Grand Hombre, Midway Road, Peace Rules, Purge, and Seattle Fitz, each at 25-1 odds.

Will Frankel Seek Out Azeri?
At the risk of looking past Sunday's Ruffian Handicap (gr. I), let's assume Sightseek turns back the California invaders Miss Loren and Musical Chimes and emerges victorious from the 1 1/16-mile race. What then?

Trainer Bobby Frankel will have to decide whether to take on Azeri in the Spinster Stakes in the hopes of nailing down the older filly and mare championship, thus giving him the option to pass the Breeders' Cup if he wishes, or keep her at her favorite track and attempt to land the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) for the second straight year. But first Sightseek, has to get by some serious new foes, and, as of now, there is a good chance Hurricane Ivan will be dumping quite a bit of rain on New York over the weekend.

Lone Star Turf Passes First Test
Teddy Grimthorpe of Juddmonte Farms took a tour of Lone Star Park on Wednesday and was impressed with the turf course, which has been a concern to the Europeans.

"The turf course looks to be in tremendous condition and has a good cushion," Grimthorpe said. "We hope to have some horses good enough to run over it next month."

Two such horses are Nebraska Tornado, a candidate for the Filly & Mare turf (gr. IT), and Polish Summer, winner of the Dubai Sheema Classic who is under consideration for the John Deere Turf (gr. I). Both are trained in France by Andre Fabre.

In her last start on Aug. 1, Nebraska Tornado finished third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Marbye, in the group I Prix de Astarte at Deauville in France. Polish Summer finished fourth over soft going last weekend in the group II Prix Foy at Longchamp.

Alan Cooper, racing manager for the Niarchos family, was scheduled to visit Lone Star Park on Thursday. It is possible they could start Bago in either the Classic or Turf, and try for another Breeders' Cup Mile with last year's winner Six Perfections.

In addition to Juddmonte Farms and the Niarchos family, other international representatives that have recently toured Lone Star Park include Shadwell Farm's Rick Nichols, Gainsborough Farm's Allen Kershaw, and Adrian Beaumont, director of racecourse services for the International Racing Bureau.

'Servis Station' Pumping Gas Again
Here we go again. Although it's too early to start comparing Rockport Harbor to Smarty Jones, step one at least has been completed. The son of Unbridled's Song, whom Servis trains for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms, broke his maiden at first asking, romping by 8 3/4 lengths under a hand ride by Stewart Elliott, who hopped over from Monmouth Park just to ride the colt. Rockport Harbor, who went off as the 1-5 favorite, was purchased by Porter at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale for $470,000.

Big Weekend on Tap
The Bessemer Trust Juvenile (gr. I) and Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) pictures should clear up considerably this weekend. On the Juvenile front, the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) will be run Sunday at Belmont, while Arlington hosts the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) the same day. On Saturday, the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) will be held at Turfway Park. The fillies will compete in Sunday's Matron (gr. I) at Belmont and Arlington-Washington Lassie (gr. III) at Arlington, and the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. III) at Turfway on Saturday.

We should get a better idea of what to expect in the Mile after the $1-million Atto Mile (Can-I) at Woodbine on Sunday, which will be headed by locals Soaring Free and Perfect Soul, and the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) on Saturday.

The Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III), which produced last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Cajun Beat, will feature last year's red-hot 2-year-old, Cuvee, trained by Steve Asmussen.

Read more about Azeri in Women of the Year available online fromExclusivelyEquine.com!



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