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Azeri cruises home in Breeders' Cup Distaff
Ed McNamara
Special to ESPN.com

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. -- To wise guys seeking value, Azeri was an automatic bet-against yesterday in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Yes, her speed figures and record were terrific, but they said that all she'd been doing was beating up on the same second-rate fillies and mares in Southern California. She'd had a long season and was ripe to be exposed.

Uh, no.

Azeri
Azeri (right) wins the Breeders' Cup Distaff with jockey Mike Smith aboard.
Azeri took the lead immediately and never gave it up, gliding to an absurdly easy five-length victory under Mike Smith, his ninth Breeders' Cup win but his first since 1997. Trainer Laura de Seroux got the money with her first Breeders' Cup starter.

The result was a certainty entering the stretch, and the only drama was in who would complete the exacta. Farda Amiga got up in the final jump to finish a head in front of Imperial Gesture, who chased the winner all the way around.

"She's an amazing filly," Smith said. "The first two or three jumps, she opened up a length. Once I got to the backside, she really leveled out nice, and I was smiling from then on. I think she's the best filly I've ever ridden."

The 4-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.64, the fastest time of the Arlington Park meeting, and paid $5.60 to win. The 9-5 favorite ran like a 1-5, as her connections hoped and expected that she would.

"I didn't want to be overconfident or bullish," de Seroux said, "but quite honestly, I just felt she was faster than all the rest."

Azeri coasted through very quick fractions with Smith motionless in the saddle, running a quarter-mile in 23.47 seconds and a half in :46.20 while keeping a comfortable length lead over Imperial Gesture. The advantage was still a length after 6 furlongs in a brisk 1:09.70, and at the eighth pole Azeri locked it up, getting clear by two lengths after a mile in 1:35.86 and drawing off under a hand ride.

De Seroux, the wife of bloodstock agent Emmanuel de Seroux, is a 50-year-old native of Los Angeles who spent 15 years, from 1974-89, as an exercise rider for the late Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham. She took out her trainer's license only three years ago and stables about 35 horses at San Luis Rey Downs training center in Southern California. It was her 14th stakes win of 2002 and her eighth in a Grade I.

Farda Amiga wore front bandages for the first time, often a sign of tendon trouble. Not so in this case. "Horses from the West Coast aren't used to running on off tracks," de Seroux said. "They were just a precaution so she wouldn't burn her heels." The track was rated muddy before the first race, but before the Distaff it was upgraded to fast.

Azeri's eighth win in nine starts this year, and her 10th in 11 for her career, was worth $1,040,000 to the Allen Paulson Living Trust, raising her career bankroll to more that $2.2 million. Paulson, who died of cancer in 2000, bred and named her, and his son Michael was teary in the postrace news conference.

"We knew she could do it," Paulson said. "A lot of people doubted her, and I don't think there's a doubter in the world right now. It's a very emotional day. I wish my dad were here."



 


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