Oaklawn Park Race Report (Cont.)

Movin' On Up
Handicappers take note. There's a new girl winning her way to the top of the older filly and mare division and she has her eyes firmly focused on the 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I). Her name is Azeri.

With her win in the Apple Blossom, Azeri has now won two consecutive grade I events--she captured the March 10 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap by an easy three lengths over fellow Apple Blossom rival Spain--but her most recent victory didn't come quite as easily.

The winner broke in the air, spotted rival Miss Linda several lengths, raced four-wide turning for home, and drifted out to avoid tracks left behind by the starting gate. And she did all that in 1:42.75--the fastest time of the meeting for the 1 1/16-mile distance.

Trainer Laura de Seroux, who took over Azeri's training duties from Simon Bray last August, said the daughter of Jade Hunter has never broken well and is just now coming into her own. "She's just all legs," de Seroux said. "And she's never broken good from the gate. I think the only time she's had a clean break was her first start and she was lunging out when the gates opened."

However, her trip wasn't all bad. Under jockey Mike Smith, Azeri surged to the lead in the upper stretch and finished 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Affluent, with Miss Linda another three-quarters back in third. It was another two lengths back to Spain in fourth, who also finished fourth in the 2001 Apple Blossom. Verruma trailed the field.

Multiple grade I winner Fleet Renee was scratched on race day by trainer Michael Dickinson because of an undisclosed minor problem.

"I wanted to get her running and have some momentum because I knew Affluent would come running," said Smith. "She got to looking (at the tracks) and she didn't know which way to get around them. Once I showed her what I wanted and straightened her up, she was fine."

Miss Linda took the compact field of five through fractions of :23.56, :47.56, and 1:12.15 before Azeri moved to the outside to take the lead at the three-sixteenths pole.

Once clear inside the furlong marker, Azeri drifted to her right after spotting the tracks, but Smith quickly regained the 4-year-old's attention and she had more than enough left to hold off the late-running Affluent. Azeri, who was sent off at even money, carried 117 pounds, one less than Affluent, who was the co-highweight with Miss Linda.

"She ran well," said trainer Ron McAnally of his charge, Affluent. "But the slow pace worked against her. Of course, the winner had to overcome the pace, and did."

Fourth-place finisher Spain continues to chase Serena's Song's all-time North American earnings record for a filly or mare. With her $30,000 Apple Blossom check, Spain has now earned $3,097,040, just $186,348 shy of Serena's Song's $3,283,388.

Azeri and Affluent are likely to meet again in either the Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) May 25 or the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) June 22 en route to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. b

At the Wire
Due to Win did win the April 5 Bayakoa Stakes. The 7-year-old mare covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.21, crossing the wire three-quarters of a length in front of Red n'Gold, with Caressing another two lengths back in third.

Following the Bayakoa, Caressing's trainer David Vance said the jury remains out on the 2000 juvenile filly champion. "I wasn't happy because the filly got beat," Vance said, "but she didn't run a bad race. She had a shot to win until she chucked it at the eighth pole. We'll take her to Churchill Downs and figure out what we want to do. It's still not too late to breed her."

(Chart, Equibase)