Updated on 09/16/2011 7:38AM

Azeri has 'em running scared

Benoit & Associates
Azeri, returning under Mike Smith after her victory last month in the Milady, goes for her fourth straight Grade 1 win in the Vanity.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There is a touch of resignation among the trainers with fillies facing Azeri in Saturday's $250,000 at Hollywood Park.

Azeri has won three consecutive Grade 1 races and will be heavily favored to gain a fourth in the Vanity, run over 1 1/8 miles.

The 125-pound highweight, Azeri faces four others - Affluent, Collect Call, Starrer, and Terna, all of whom are graded or group stakes winners. Affluent and Collect Call were second and third in the Grade 1 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 25, which Azeri won by 3 1/2 lengths.

The Milady confirmed that the 4-year-old Azeri has remained in top form since the winter, when her winning streak began in the Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap at Santa Anita. In April, she won the Apple Blossom Handicap.

A winner of 6 of 7 starts and $727,240, Azeri is such a standout that Hollywood Park has positioned the Vanity as the third race on a nine-race program to keep it out of the pick six, which starts in the fourth race.

Through her 2002 campaign, Azeri has amazed trainer Laura de Seroux with her steady training at San Luis Rey Downs in northern San Diego County. De Seroux said Azeri is able to stay fit without using all of her energy training and that her physical condition is strong as ever.

"What I have the luxury of doing is I can give her a week off in the sun pen after her races," de Seroux said. "Then, I wait another week or seven to nine days before I breeze. She's got all the gas in her tank before she breezes. She hasn't lost any fitness. By the time she's ready to breeze she does enough to stay fit.

"She's breezed twice since the Milady and they've been the best breezes of her life. It's quite exciting. I take a photo of her loading on the van before she goes to the track, so I have good physical evidence and can make comparisons. She seems to be getting deeper in the shoulder and stronger in the hind end. There is no signs of a dip at all."

Such comments are the last thing the competition wants to hear. For the record, the runner-up in the Vanity will earn $50,000 and a Grade 1 placing.

A second-place finish would be fine with trainer Pico Perdomo, who starts the recent Argentine import Terna.

A 4-year-old, Terna was fifth in an allowance race on turf on May 26, her United States debut. Last fall, she won a Group 1 stakes in Argentina, her lone stakes win. Perdomo realizes that Terna is facing a momentous task trying to defeat Azeri.

He said that Azeri "has to not run her best race or she'll be difficult to beat. Every time she runs, she runs a better race."

Of the Vanity starters, Affluent has come the closest to beating Azeri, having finished second by 1 3/4 lengths in the Apple Blossom.

In the Milady, Azeri led throughout, but she came from behind to win the Apple Blossom and Santa Margarita handicaps. Her versatility gives jockey Mike Smith plenty of options on Saturday.

"I want Mike to get a good break and let her be comfortable," de Seroux said. "If she wants to go on, they'll have to try and keep up with her. She's relaxed with her speed and I've never witnessed that she's slowing down at the end of her races. When you don't have to work them hard in the morning, that's a key part of her greatness, soundness, and the longevity of her form."

Collect Call and Starrer, who is unraced since winning the Dahlia Handicap last December, run close to the pace. They could be compromised if they engage a front-running Azeri.

"Azeri is a freak," said Christopher Paasch, who trains Collect Call. "I don't think we have the tactical speed to stay with her if she goes. She's the best filly in the country right now. It will take a lifetime effort to beat her."