Azeri will return to racing as Lukas trainee.

Azeri will return to racing as Lukas trainee.

Barbara D. Livingston

Azeri to Return in 2004 With Lukas

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year who suffered a tendon injury one week prior to the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, will return to training for a 2004 campaign under Hall of Fame conditioner D. Wayne Lukas.

Michael Paulson, who runs the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust that owns the daughter of Jade Hunter, said Azeri has been examined at both Rood & Riddle and Hagyard-Davidson-McGee equine hospitals in Lexington, and that ultrasound tests at both "showed excellent results of a sound tendon with no tendonitis and all fibers in alignment."

Paulson said he chose Lukas after extensive research into the trainer's record with top-notch fillies and mares, and cited Lukas' success with females such as Lady's Secret, Winning Colors, Spain, and Serena's Song. In addition, Paulson was enticed by Lukas' nationwide operation. There were several times in 2003 when Paulson lobbied to ship Azeri east to run. Trainer Laura de Seroux favored a West Coast campaign, and that's where Azeri raced after her 2003 lid-lifter in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park.

"Though there are risks for every action you take, we'll bring her back with caution and diligence," said Paulson. "Champion horses like Azeri are what every owner and breeder of these magnificent animals strives for. A long as she is sound and fit for racing, I believe her place is on the racetrack."

In addition to Azeri, Paulson will ship six other head to Lukas.

Azeri was riding an 11-race win streak -- all in graded company -- when she was defeated in October's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita. She was found to have spiked a fever the following day. She was undefeated in her 4-year-old campaign in 2002, taking the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Arlington Park. Her $3,0444,820 in lifetime earnings ranks her fifth all-time for fillies and mares.