Leading Female Earner, Horse of the Year Azeri Retired

Leading Female Earner, Horse of the Year Azeri Retired
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Azeri, all-time leading female earner, has been retired.
Azeri, North America's all-time leading money-earning female, has been retired from racing. Michael Paulson, who heads his father's Allen Paulson Living Trust that raced Azeri, made the decision to retire the 6-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter rather than race her a few more times, as was under consideration.

"In some sense I'm sad, but in another (sense) I can't be," said Paulson. "She had a remarkable career and we're very proud of her. It's an honor to be associated with the all-time money-leading filly or mare."

Azeri was bred by Allen Paulson out of the Ahonoora mare Zodiac Miss. Azeri gives the late breeder a remarkable double--not only is Azeri's $4,079,820 bankroll tops among females, Paulson also bred and raced Cigar, who made more money than any other horse in the history of racing, just under $10 million.

Michael Paulson said Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, will move from D. Wayne Lukas' Santa Anita barn to Kentucky within the next week. Paulson declined to make public who Azeri will be bred to in 2005.

Azeri finished with a stunning 17 victories, 14 coming in stakes, from 24 starts, along with four runner-up finishes. After a perfect two-for-two mark as a 3-year-old, the strapping chestnut gained fame in 2002, when she strung together seven consecutive graded stakes victories, culminating in her tour de force run in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Arlington Park. She garnered champion older mare honors that year in addition to her Horse of the Year title.

It was more of the same in 2003, although for awhile it looked as though Azeri would be sold as part of the split of Allen Paulson's estate. But Michael Paulson negotiated a settlement with Paulson's widow, Madeleine, that allowed him to continue racing Azeri in the name of his father's living trust. And Azeri responded, winning four graded stakes in a row before being beaten in the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I), her prep for the 2003 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Her trainer, Laura de Seroux, detected a tendon injury in Azeri that forced her to miss the Breeders' Cup. Azeri did enough to repeat as champion older mare for 2003 anyway. Although de Seroux recommended retiring Azeri, Paulson instead sent her to Kentucky, where two clinics checked her out and pronounced her fit to continue racing. Paulson transferred Azeri to Lukas at the beginning of 2004, and in her first effort for that barn, Azeri scored a third consecutive Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) win at Oaklawn Park.

Azeri raced twice against the boys in 2004, something Paulson had been wanting to try for awhile. Although she was unsuccessful in both the Met Mile (gr. I) and the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I), she proved she belonged with the best. Her victories in the Go For Wand Handicap (gr. I) and the Overbrook Spinster (gr. I) were among the most rewarding for Paulson, who was vindicated in his decision to bring Azeri back for yet another season. Along with Sightseek, Azeri is the leading contender for yet another champion older mare title.

In a press release, Paulson said the decision to retire Azeri was made in consultation with Lukas. "Champion horses like Azeri are what every owner and breeder of these magnificent animals strives for, and I have been very blessed and fortunate to have campaigned this exceptional horse," Paulson wrote. "I am very excited about her prospects as a broodmare, and look forward to the opportunity of seeing her foals with their mother's champion qualities."

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