Updated on 09/16/2011 8:59AM

Azeri appears untouchable

Benoit & Associates
De Seroux's dream horse, Azeri, seeks to go 8 for 9 in Sunday's Hirsch.

DEL MAR, Calif. - When trainer Laura de Seroux describes Azeri as a "dream horse," it is pointless to debate her analysis. After all, it is accurate.

Azeri soared to the head of her class this spring by winning four straight Grade 1's and resumes her march toward the Breeders' Cup Distaff when she runs Sunday at Del Mar. It is a racetrack she had not seen until this week, but Azeri offered no hesitation when she got her first look at it Thursday morning.

"She stepped on the racetrack, looked it over, and then she owned it," de Seroux said.

Just like every other time. Azeri's win streak includes races at Santa Anita, Oaklawn, and Hollywood Park. Overall, she has seven wins from eight starts, and there isn't a filly in California who can touch her. That includes the five others who, like her, entered Sunday's Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at 1 1/16 miles.

"I don't think anyone could reasonably go into the race thinking they have more than an outside chance of beating the big mare," said trainer Darrell Vienna, who starts Queen of Wilshire in the race. "But who knows? Even the mighty sometimes stumble."

Not often. Owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, Azeri is fresh and fit, racing for the first time since June 22. A 4-year-old filly, she carries 126 pounds, conceding 10 or more pounds to her opponents. None of Azeri's rivals has earned a triple-digit Beyer over a distance of ground, while she has earned Beyers of 100 or higher in all seven of her route races. On paper, the Hirsch is a mismatch.

Azeri's rivals include Grade 3 route winner Queen of Wilshire, Grade 2 sprint winner Irguns Angel, and Adoration, the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks winner who will be facing older for the first time. Unlikely longshots See Me Acabo and Angel Gift complete the field. One of them can win only if Azeri misfires, an unlikely occurrence.

The lone blemish in Azeri's career - she has $877,240 in earnings - was a runner-up finish when she broke slowly and could not catch a loose-on-the-lead Summer Colony in February. It was not the first time she broke slowly, nor the last, but in her last two starts she broke like a shot and was never challenged.

"The gate was her nemesis," de Seroux said. "But she finally got it. She figured it out on her own."

Mike Smith rides Azeri, who might well not race again after Sunday until the Breeders' Cup. The Grade 2 Lady's Secret on Oct. 2 at Santa Anita is only 24 days before the Breeders' Cup, and de Seroux might send Azeri to the Breeders' Cup at Arlington without a final prep. "She's a really good work horse. If I have to, I could train her up to it," de Seroux said.

Either way, plans call for a 2003 campaign for Azeri. "She will stay in training next year," de Seroux said. "We might see her running against colts next year."

Although she won her last two starts on the lead, Azeri does not require the front end. Her versatile style should play well in a race with abundant pace. Irguns Angel is expected to set the pace, though the farther she runs, the less effective she becomes. Others may simply ignore the pacesetter, running as if Irguns Angel was not in the race.

Adoration entered, but is not a confirmed starter according to trainer David Hofmans. If she does run, Hofmans suggests bettors disregard her last-place finish July 20 in the Delaware Oaks.

"She didn't like the track at all, or the humidity," he said. "It was very hot, and the track was very deep." Adoration has won 3 of 7 and earned $265,080.

Assuming Azeri reproduces her best form - there is no reason to believe otherwise - the biggest challenge might be identifying who will run second.

Queen of Wilshire, a 7-for-19 pro, is the most likely candidate. She finished a dull seventh in a Grade 2 sprint last time, but has run her best races around two turns.

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