Distaff Preview: History Lesson

History will be on Azeri's side when she steps into Arlington Park's starting gate Oct. 26 for the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I). Heavy favorites, which is the mantle Azeri will surely carry, have won eight of the previous 18 Distaffs.

The chestnut daughter of Jade Hunter has soundly trounced her competition in all but one of the seven graded stakes she's entered this year. Her only loss came in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II). The 4-year-old, however, solidified her role as the early favorite when she easily won the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup (gr. II) by 31/2 lengths. Carrying 127 pounds (her highest to date), Azeri was challenged early in the 11/16-mile race and pushed through the first six furlongs in a stiff 1:08.98. Azeri then faced a more considerable challenge from Mystic Lady in the stretch. Again, she shook off her rival and won easily. Both trainer Laura de Seroux and jockey Mike Smith said they thought Azeri got more out of the race than she gave.

Still, de Seroux acknowledged that winning the Distaff wouldn't be an easy task, as recent history has shown. Despite the strong record overall, the favorite hasn't won the Distaff since 1995. The bettors' second choice has prevailed twice in the past six years as has the third choice. The last six years also have produced two longshots, including Spain, who won in 2000 at the highest odds (56-1) in Distaff history. The favorite in 2000 was Riboletta, who finished seventh.

Azeri's competition is considerable and improving.

Imperial Gesture comes into the Distaff off two runaway victories in the Gazelle Handicap (gr. I) and Beldame Stakes (gr. I) against many of the best fillies on the East Coast. The 3-year-old daughter of Langfuhr has now won five times in six starts this year and seems to be getting better and better, according to Tom Albertrani, assistant trainer for Godolphin.

Then there is Take Charge Lady and Summer Colony. Take Charge Lady, a 3-year-old daughter of Dehere owned by Select Stable, rolled to an easy 21/2-length victory in the Overbrook Spinster Stakes (gr. I) against fellow multiple grade I stakes winner You. Summer Colony comes to the Distaff off a third-place finish in the Beldame, but has the distinction of being the one who beat Azeri in the La Canada Stakes. Edward Evans' homebred daughter of Summer Squall has won four graded stakes this year, including the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I).

Another filly who has improved remarkably during the summer is Mandy's Gold. The 4-year-old daughter of Gilded Time won her first stakes of the year May 25 and followed that with victories in three graded stakes, including the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I) against division heavyweights You, Raging Fever, and Shine Again. As important as the win, Mandy's Gold showed versatility by coming off the pace rather than running out front.

No one can discount Farda Amiga either. Trainer Paulo Lobo has done an admirable job picking his spots for the 3-year-old daughter of Broad Brush. After finishing fourth in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), the late charging filly took the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) by 11/4 lengths over Take Charge Lady and 31/2 months later took the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) by three-quarters of a length. She is being trained up to the Breeders' Cup from Lobo's base at Hollywood Park.

Rounding out the pre-entries is Starrer, who ran second to Azeri in the Lady's Secret and was third behind her in the Vanity Handicap in June, and Two Item Limit, who finished third in last year's Distaff. Both 4-year-old fillies are multiple graded stakes winners who haven't won a stakes so far this year.