'02 top horse Azeri out for Saturday, may retire

Mare's recent behavior made trainer uneasy

Horse Racing

Breeders' Cup notebook

October 21, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. - Azeri, reigning Horse of the Year, will not compete in the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Saturday at Santa Anita Park and may be retired.

The trainer, Laura de Seroux, had expressed concern about the 5-year-old mare after she refused to budge Friday morning after walking onto the track at San Luis Rey Downs, her training base in California. She later breezed six furlongs in a sizzling 1 minute, 10 1/5 seconds.

"She walked this morning and is fine, but in my opinion, she should be retired," de Seroux said yesterday. "I've been expressing concern over what she's been trying to telegraph to me. Sooner or later, something is going to jump up and make it very clear."

Azeri finished third (but was placed second through disqualification) in her last race, the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita. The loss ended her 11-race win streak. She bled from the lungs and was later found to have a blood disorder, indicating a respiratory virus.

Her owner, Michael Paulson, announced the decision to withdraw from the Breeders' Cup.

"It was a very hard decision to make, but I am confident it is the right decision," he said. "I was very concerned to see two very fast works over the last two weeks, and her response ... has not made me feel confident that she has recovered totally from whatever affected her unusual performance in the Lady's Secret."

Paulson said Azeri would be shipped to Kentucky before a decision was made about her future. Of 16 races, Azeri won 14 and finished second twice. She earned $3,044,820.

The Azeri fallout

Azeri's defection from the Distaff means only two repeat winners will compete Saturday: High Chaparral in the Turf and Volponi in the Classic.

Even before Azeri's withdrawal, trainer Bobby Frankel said that of his eight entrants, Sightseek in the Distaff had the best chance of winning. The 4-year-old filly has won four straight Grade I stakes.

Around the track

Funny Cide completed his serious training for the Classic with a six-furlong breeze in 1 minute, 13 3/5 seconds Sunday at Belmont Park. Yesterday, his trainer, Barclay Tagg, and especially his exercise rider, Robin Smullen, lauded the workout.

"I thought his work was absolutely fabulous," Smullen said. "I mean, he got his last eighth in 12 1/5 [seconds], and then he galloped out in 12 1/5. You can't do much better than to finish up in 24 2/5." ...

Cactus Ridge, the Illinois-based 2-year-old who is undefeated in four starts, will not compete in the Juvenile after injuring his right knee during a weekend workout. ...

Clock Stopper was withdrawn Sunday from the Sprint. ...

Irish trainer Aiden O'Brien did not include Grand Reward and Old Deuteronomy, his two candidates for the Juvenile, on his shipment Sunday of Breeders' Cup horses from Ireland. He gave officials no reason for their not making the flight. ...

Cross-entered in the Classic but scheduled to run in the Mile, Peace Rules breezed four furlongs in 47 1/5 seconds yesterday at Hollywood Park, and then his rider fell off when his left stirrup snapped. The Frankel-trained Peace Rules exited the track through the gap and wandered the backstretch for a couple of minutes before being caught. Frankel said the horse was fine.

At a glance

What: Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships

Where: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, Calif.

When: Saturday

Feature race: $4 million Classic

TV: Chs. 11, 4, 1-6 p.m.

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