Jun 20, 2003
By: John Piesen
Now that the Triple Crown is over, the biggest story in racing is Azeri.
Let me qualify this statement. Last Saturday at Hollywood Park, Azeri, the reigning Horse of the Year, stretched her winning streak to 10 when she won the nine-furlong Vanity Handicap under wraps by two lengths over a nice filly named Sister Girl Blues in 1:48 4/5 while conceding 16 pounds (127-111).
But was anybody watching? Only 8,000 showed up on a beautiful afternoon at Hollywood Park, and Azeri hardly caused a ripple at the Las Vegas racebook where I caught the race. The fifth at Arlington generated more buzz, not to mention the Dodgers putting up a first-inning four-spot against the Angels.
With the notable exceptions of Ruffian and Personal Ensign, in the world of thoroughbred racing, fillies and mares tend to play second fiddle to the males. Kind of like in golf where Annika Sorenstrom never made headlines until he challenged the boys - and lost!
Azeri is a kind of a four-legged Annika. Despite how long her winning streak lasts (she needs six more to tie Citation and Cigar). she'll never make it above the fold until she hooks the boys.
I speculated in this space a month back that a matchup of Triple Crown winner Funny Cide and the all-conquering Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Classic would be the most compelling faceoff in the history of the sport. Obviously, you can remove "Triple Crown winner" from the mix, but it still will be one for the ages if Azeri challenges males in the BCC with her winning streak intact.
The connections of Azeri have sent out mixed signals about their intentions to challenge males this summer. The Hollywood Gold Cup, San Diego Handicap and Pacific Classic are possibilities if they choose to take a shot.
I have no idea what owner Mike Paulson and trainer Laura de Seroux are planning to do, but, personally, I would love to see Azeri stay with - and beat - fillies and mares for three more months, and then shoot the works in the Classic.
In the meantime, one word of caution before we anoint Azeri.
Take a moment to draw a line through Take Charge Lady.
Back in April at Oaklawn Park, Azeri was life and death to nail Take Charge Lady by a head in the Apple Blossom Handicap.
Last Saturday at Belmont Park, the Bobby Frankel-trained Sightseek whacked Take Charge Lady by five in the Ogden Phipps Handicap.
But what do I know?
I keep trying to beat Frankel, my fellow Brooklynite, and maybe it's time I realize this is not a wise thing to. The Belmont was one example, the Phipps another. What in the world was I thinking when I gave out Take Charge Lady in the Phipps.
Sightseek was climbing for a half-mile in the Belmont slop, and still blew past Take Charge Lady as though she was chained to the inside rail.
For Frankel, the two-time defending Eclipse winner, the Phipps was merely his 29th graded stakes victory of the year, and that's only the beginning. Over the next two months, Frankel plans to run Empire Maker in the Jim Dandy and Travers; Medaglia d'Oro in the Whitney; Milwaukee Brew in the Pacific Classic; Peace Rules in the Haskell; Dollar Bill in the Suburban; Denon and Requete in the United Nations; Sightseek in the Go For Wand; Spoken Fur in the Mother Goose, and Ghostzapper in the King's Bishop.
I won't be betting against him.
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