Horse of  the Year Azeri, ready to defend Milady title.

Horse of the Year Azeri, ready to defend Milady title.


Horse of the Year Azeri Settles in at Hollywood for Milady Defense

(from Hollywood Park track notes)
Azeri, who seeks to defend honors in the $200,000-added Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) Saturday, will be the first reigning Horse of the Year to run at Hollywood Park since Sunday Silence in 1990.

Sunday Silence, 1989 Horse of the Year, won the 1990 Californian and finished second in the Hollywood Gold Cup that year to Criminal Type, who went on to Horse of the Year honors in 1990.

Azeri, a 5-year-old mare, was on the Hollywood Park main track Wednesday morning. She arrived the previous afternoon from her training base at San Luis Rey Downs.

"I like it when you have to ask her to go forward instead of saying 'whoa,'" said trainer Laura de Seroux as the mare was led from her stall to the track under regular work rider Brian Eide. "I just want to get this race over with. She's been very strong lately."

Wearing four white protective bandages, the chestnut mare "cantered and galloped about 1 1/4 miles," to the satisfaction of de Seroux. "She will be fine after she schools a couple of days," said de Seroux.

De Seroux, an exercise rider for Charlie Whittingham during the 1970s and 1980s, recalled the presence of Sunday Silence during her final years with the legendary trainer. "You couldn't touch Sunday Silence; he would eat you," said de Seroux. "When Charlie gave him a peppermint, that was as close as you could get to him."

Azeri, unbeaten in three starts at Hollywood, seeks her ninth straight victory and 12th in 13 starts in 1 1/16-mile Milady. She won the Milady by 3 1/2 lengths over Affluent under 122 pounds last year. Under regular rider Mike Smith, Azeri will carry 125 in her defense as she seeks to become the first Milady repeater since champion Paseana, who also carried 125 in 1993.

Azeri is expected to head a field of five that will include multiple stakes-winning millionairess Affluent, Gary Stevens, 117; Hawthorne Handicap winner Keys to the Heart, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 115; Damaschino, Patrick Valenzuela, 114; and Enjoy, Victor Espinoza, 113.

The only surprise is Damaschino, also nominated to the $350,000-added Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap Monday on turf, where she made all of her previous 25 starts.

"We're going to try her on the dirt and see what happens," explained trainer Neil Drysdale of the surface change with the Australian import.