Reigning Horse of the Year Azeri toyed with her opposition in Saturday's $211,800 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park, easily winning her ninth consecutive graded stakes with Mike Smith in the irons.
Azeri, who carried top weight of 125 pounds to victory, became the first to win the Milady in successive years since Pasaena in 1993. She covered the 1 1/16-mile event in 1:41 4/5, winning by three lengths over late-running Enjoy.
Azeri ran with Damaschino on the lead into the first turn before coasting to the front on the backstretch. Affluent, expected to give her rival the toughest battle with Gary Stevens aboard in spite of five straight losses to Azeri, brought pressure on the outside as the field of six made its way into the final turn. The champion quickly spurted away and opened up a big lead in the stretch. Enjoy, with Victor Espinoza, brought her one big late run after trailing most of the way, but could not menace the winner in the stretch. Tropical Blossom was third, six lengths behind the winner. Affluent faded to fifth.
Azeri rattled off fractional times of :23, :46 1/5, 1:10 and 1:35 2/5.
"I knew they were coming after her today, I just didn't know who," said Smith. I stayed away from the rail and gave her room to go."
"They triple-teamed her today," said trainer Laura de Seroux, referring to several horses pressuring Azeri early. "But she was very, very, very ready for today. In fact, maybe too ready."
De Seroux said there are no plans to run Azeri against males at this time, but wasn't ruling it out. Michael Paulson agreed, saying they'll take the champion's future "race by race."
"There's nothing to prove as far as I'm concerned," de Seroux said. She said Azeri is not likely to travel very often, however.
"There's a good schedule here (in Southern California)," she said. "The Breeders' Cup is here (Santa Anita).
"You don't take your game out of town when you are the champion. You make them come to you."
Azeri, a 5-year-old mare by Jade Hunter bred and owned by Allen E. Paulson's Living Trust and trained by Laura de Seroux, is now a perfect six-for-six at the distance and four-for-four at Hollywood Park. Overall, she has won 12 of 13 races and has amassed $2.65 in career earnings. Saturday's triumph, which earned $127,080, was her seventh in grade I company.
Sent off at 1-5 in the six-horse field, Azeri paid $2.40, $2.10 and $2.10. Enjoy returned $2.40 and $2.10. Tropical Blossom's show price was $2.10. The $2 exacta was worth $9.60.