Jockey Mike Smith guides Azeri to victory in the Santa Margarita.

Jockey Mike Smith guides Azeri to victory in the Santa Margarita.

AP/Benoit & Associates

Stretch Kick Gives Azeri Three Length Santa Margarita Win

The Allen E. Paulson Living Trust's Azeri earned her first grade I stakes win in her fifth career start at Santa Anita Sunday, when the 4-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter won the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap.

Unraced prior to November, Azeri earned her maiden win first time out, then ran through two allowance conditions in two subsequent starts before finishing second to Summer Colony in the grade II La Canada Stakes last month. Mike Smith has ridden the filly for trainer Laura De Seroux in all five outings.

"She got away a lot better today," said Smith. "The other day (in the La Canada), a lot of people didn't realize that she fell in behind, and really rapped herself. She was like a washing machine that gets unbalanced, it took about an eighth of a mile to get her straightened out. She still got away a little funky today, but at least she didn't hit herself. Today I was able to do what I wanted, she was on go at all times. And when I asked her, she took off."

The win marks the first grade I win for De Seroux.

"This is a very emotional victory for me," the conditioner said. "She didn't break well last time and I was just hoping she'd come away from there. She has speed to stalk any pace, she has enough speed to take the lead if there isn't enough pace, so I just told him (Mike Smith) to be close and trust his instincts. She has a fantastic temperament. She was born meaning to do this. She's easy to train. She's just naturally talented and there's nothing complicated about her whatsoever. She looks like a Breeders' Cup filly. I think we should count backwards from there and maybe give her a bit of a break now and plan to have her spot on for the Breeders' Cup (Oct. 26 at Arlington Park). That's something that Mike (Mike Paulson, trustee of owner Allen Paulson Living Trust) and I are going to have to plan."

Spain pressed Favorite Funtime through the early going with Azeri tracking along the rail and favored Printemps trailing the field. Spain went by Favorite Funtime approaching the stretch before Azeri reeled her in en route to a three-length win, completing the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.01. Spain held second by a length over Printemps. Alexine, Tropical Lady, Favorite Funtime, and Minor Details completed the order of finish.

"She took the pressure and it kind of set up for the other horse (Azeri), who is a quality horse, too," said D. Wayne Lukas of Spain's trip. "She didn't get any relief from the pressure on the backside and that always takes its toll going a mile and an eighth. But I was very pleased with her. I thought she ran well and I thought Victor (Espinoza) rode her better."

Sent off as the slight second choice in the wagering, Azeri returned $6.40, $4, and $2.60. Spain paid $4.80 and $3 and Printemps $2.40. The $1 exacta returned $18.90.

Azeri earned $180,000 for the win, with Spain adding $60,000 to her bankroll in pursuit of the distaff career earnings record. (Chart, Equibase)