10/22/2002 11:00PM

BC Countdown - Distaff: Rapid fillies side by side in gate


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Breeders' Cup Day figures to get off to a fast start Saturday at Arlington Park. Azeri and Imperial Gesture, the two quickest fillies in the $2 million Distaff, on Wednesday drew post positions alongside one another for the day's first Breeders' Cup race, which seemingly insures a spirited duel from the time the starting gate opens.

Azeri drew post 4, with Imperial Gesture just to her outside. Six others, as expected, entered the Distaff, whose 1 1/8 miles make up one lap of Arlington's main track.

It is conventional wisdom that when two speed horses are in a race, the horse on the outside has a slight tactical advantage. But Laura de Seroux, the trainer of Azeri, was unconcerned about Azeri's draw vis-?-vis Imperial Gesture.

"I don't care because she doesn't care," de Seroux said, smiling. "The draw is fine."

Azeri has won six straight races, and a victory in the Distaff would throw down the gauntlet for other Horse of the Year candidates who will perform later in the day.

Azeri will be ridden by Mike Smith, and Jerry Bailey will be on Imperial Gesture. Neither rider is known for gunning unnecessarily to make the front, so while the pace should be lively, it would be surprising to see those two set debilitating fractions.

"Mike's not going to ding-dong with anybody," de Seroux said. "I'm comfortable, even with that horse next to her. He's done a great job with Azeri. He lets her go to the lead, then he takes a long hold on her and doesn't let her do too much early on."

The prospect of Azeri and Imperial Gesture facing off early delighted two of their rivals.

Ken McPeek, the trainer of Spinster Stakes winner Take Charge Lady, thought his filly would get an ideal trip. She is starting from the outside post, but with only eight runners, posts should not be significant.

"I'd rather have an outside post because she'll run well from the outside," McPeek said. "I definitely didn't want the one or two hole."

Paulo Lobo, who trains late-running Farda Amiga, was hoping a hot pace would set up the race for the winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes.

"I wanted to break from the inside, like we did," Lobo said of Farda Amiga's post 3. "I think Azeri and Imperial Gesture will try to get a good position early. We're going to do the same we've always done. We're not going to change her style."

Another stretch runner, Summer Colony, figures to get a good trip from post 2. Her jockey, John Velazquez, is the only rider with mounts in all eight Breeders' Cup races.

Two Item Limit, who is likely to be the race's longest shot, drew the rail.

"It makes no difference," said her trainer, Steve DiMauro. "She's going to drop back anyway. If she were speed, then I'd worry about which post she got."

The lone equipment change for the Distaff regards Starrer, who will be adding blinkers. All eight runners have been racing on Lasix, and will continue to do so.

The Distaff field, from the rail out, is Two Item Limit (Rene Douglas the rider), Summer Colony (Velazquez), Farda Amiga (Pat Day), Azeri (Smith), Imperial Gesture (Bailey), Mandy's Gold (Jose Santos), Starrer (Pat Valenzuela), and Take Charge Lady (Edgar Prado).



Total purse: $2 million; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1Two Item LimitR. Douglas12330-1
2Summer ColonyJ. Velazquez1235-1
3Farda AmigaP. Day1196-1
4AzeriM. Smith1237-5
5Imperial GestureJ. Bailey1196-1
6Mandy's GoldJ. Santos12312-1
7StarrerP. Valenzuela12330-1
8Take Charge LadyE. Prado1193-1

Odds by Mike Watchmaker

Television: Saturday, 1 p.m. (Eastern), NBC