Azeri stuns the field to take the Distaff in style.

Azeri stuns the field to take the Distaff in style.

David Snyder

Azeri Simply Dazzling Once Again in BC Distaff

The Allen E. Paulson Living Trust's Azeri solidified her bid for Horse of the Year with a dominating win in the $2-million Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park.

With Mike Smith in irons, Azeri, wearing front wraps for the first time, took the early lead in the 1 1/8-mile event and was never seriously threatened. Imperial Gesture stalked her throughout, but Azeri, despite having run six furlongs in 1:09 3/5 on a track upgraded to fast, easily opened up by five lengths at the wire. The final time was 1:48 3/5.

Farda Amiga, never that far back, rallied to nip Imperial Gesture for second. Azeri, now 10 for 11 in her career, paid $5.60 to win as the favorite, but not the heavy favorite. Just minutes before post time, she was 2-1 even though her morning-line odds were 6-5.

Azeri has now won seven straight grade I or II races since February, five of them Grade I.

Trainer Laura de Seroux was captured on camera smiling, but almost in tears, and clearly impressed with her filly's performance.

De Seroux, a former exercise rider for Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham, told NBC Sports, "Charlie's not here and neither is Mr P, so (the victory) makes it emotional for us."

Later, she said, "I knew she was running comfortably and I have complete and total faith in this filly's marvelous ability. I was never nervous for a moment because I know she is fast enough to sustain that sort of pace and she is relaxed doing it."

Smith said Azeri simply leveled off on the backstretch, and "I was smiling from that point on." Indeed, the other jockeys weren't smiling. Imperial Gesture zigzagged a bit in the lane as she tried to reach Azeri, and Take Charge Lady, well-placed in third from post position eight, had no punch in the lane.

"Three races ago, I lost words to describe this filly," Smith said. "I thnk she's the best filly I've ever ridden."

The fractions were :23 2/5, :46 1/5, 1:09 3/5, and 1:35 1/5. The time of 1:48 3/5 for the 1 1/8 miles was announced as the fastest of the meet for the distance.

Pat Day, aboard closer Farda Amiga, said he wasn't surprised that she ran close to the leaders early in the race.

"I wasn't going to give up anything that came easy (early position), so we found ourselves in a good spot as we went into the first turn," Day said. "Then, they (the leaders), with there natural speed, got away from her a little bit, but she came with a great run at the end. She was just second best."

"She ran a very good race but she was beaten by a monster today," said Paulo Lobo, Farda Amiga's trainer. "She handled the track, she did her best and I'm very proud of her."

Jerry Bailey, aboard Imperial Gesture, who stalked the winner before tiring in the stretch, said he was satisfied with her third-place finish.

"She didn't handle the racetrack warming up and I'm actually a little surprised at how well she ran," he said. "She didn't like getting hit at the end (whip). I was trying to get second money without really abusing her."

Take Charge Lady finished a disappointing sixth.

Trainer Ken McPeek said his filly coughed a couple times in the post parade, so he had scoped immediately following the race. Dr. Jim Gilman scoped her and discovered a gutteral pouch infection, according to McPeek.

"She hadn't been sick but she's obviously getting sick," McPeek said. "That might explain the way she ran." He noted that last year Take Charge Lady got sick at the Breeders' Cup and finished sixth in the Juvenile Fillies.

Summer Colony, the only horse to defeat Azeri, was eighth.

Azeri (Jade Hunter -- Zodiac Miss, by Ahonoora), was bred in Kentucky by Allen E. Paulson. The exacta paid $35, the trifecta $117.80, and the superfecta with Starrer in fourth paid $504.50.

The first-place purse, $1.04 million, increased Azeri's career earnings to $2.21 million.

(Chart, Equibase)