Azeri possible for Met.

Azeri possible for Met.

Barbara D. Livingston

Azeri Bound for Met Mile Pending Weight Assignment

The Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) on May 31 at Belmont Park is expected to be the next stop for 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, but only if trainer D. Wayne Lukas approves of the weight assignment for the 6-year-old champion.

The daughter of Jade Hunter, owned by the Allen E. Paulson LivingTrust, could achieve a couple of career milestones in the one mile race that carries a $750,000 purse. A win would be the first over males Azeri, who has earned Eclipse Awards over the past two seasons as the nation's top older filly or mare. It would also put her solidly in first place in all-time earnings among females in Thoroughbred racing.

But first, there's the weight issue. Azeri is already among the horses nominated for the race and weight assignments will be issued next Tuesday.

"We're going to get a sex allowance anyhow," said Lukas. "What they do will determine whether we go. Obviously it's got to make sense."

Back-up options for Azeri would include the $400,000-added Fleur de Lis (gr. II) at Churchill Downs on June 12 and the $300,000 Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at Belmont Park the following
week. But the 111th running of the Metropolitan and a possible match against horses like 2003 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Funny Cide and Carter Handicap (gr. I) winner Pico Central is the race that clearly strikes Lukas' fancy.

"If the weights are proper, that's where we'll go," said Lukas. "I think it's a good spot. It's worth $750,000 and I think it'll make a statement about her if she can win it. She's won grade I's against her sex. We know we can do that. We're trying to step out of the box, as they say,
and do something that's extraordinary."

Azeri is coming off an upset loss to Lothenbach Stable's Mayo On the Side in the Humana Distaff (gr. I) at Churchill Downs that was just her third setback in 18 career starts. While Lukas would like for her to get back on track against males in the Met Mile, he likes the look of the racing schedule if he dislikes the weight assignment and decides to pass
on the Memorial Day race. If Azeri skips the Met Mile, the Fleur de Lis would be next on the list and, should she pass that one, the Ogden Phipps is available.
"I told Michael Paulson that the Met Mile is perfect," he said. "We could sit right here, come out of our own stall and run here, or we could ship-in for the Ogden Phipps and run in that one. The scenario is perfect."

Lukas said that Azeri would work over the next few days at Churchill Downs. If she runs in the Met Mile, she would ship to New York on May 29 and return to Louisville on June 1.

"I don't care who runs," he said. "If we run, we're going to go over there with the idea that we're going to run a good mile. And I've got to believe that everybody on that nomination list has got to have some concern about her."

And, given the way she is training at Churchill Downs, Lukas believes the boys should be wary of Azeri.

"She is doing absolutely super," he said. "I think she's doing better than she was even a month ago. I was thinking she was doing good then, but she is really thriving here."