10/24/2002 12:00AM

Handicappers' analysis of the Breeders' Cup Distaff


Azeri needs the lead. So what? She is the fastest in the race and does not quit. Azeri should outfoot Imperial Gesture, and run them ragged. She's done it all year. The alternative is versatile Take Charge Lady. If Azeri falters, Take Charge Lady will be well-positioned to pounce. Both enter off big wins in fast stakes. Improving Mandy's Gold showed late interest in the Beldame, though two turns is a new game for her. Longshot Starrer adds blinkers and is poised for a career best. She can't win; she can hit the board. Summer Colony is regressing and dubious chasing a fast pace. Underlay Imperial Gesture is suspect around two turns. Farda Amiga will pick up pieces, as will Two Item Limit at higher odds.

- Brad Free

If Azeri and Imperial Gesture fry each other on a red-hot pace, Take Charge Lady should be able to wear them down and pull away late. Although Take Charge Lady is a very tempting selection with that scenario in mind, I can't help but suspect that Azeri's connections might choose to optimize her chances by returning to the rating tactics she used during the first three months of this year. If that is the way this race plays out, the betting value would be Imperial Gesture, who earned a subtly strong variant-adjusted pace figure en route to her victory in the Beldame. She has won five of her last six starts, and is capable of pulling off the upset. Summer Colony will need a return to her best form to rebound. Farda Amiga can kick past all of them if the speedsters aren't wise enough to avoid setting ridiculously swift early fractions.

- Steve Klein

Azeri lost her second lifetime route start and first at 1 1/8 miles to Summer Colony, but has otherwise been flawless through thoughtfully orchestrated campaign doing just enough (while giving chunks of weight) to stay sharp without going over the top. Overcame trouble to win lone start away from SoCal circuit. Imperial Gesture was hands down the top filly or mare on East Coast this fall. Bias-aided 112 Beyer in Gazelle was followed by fast-fractioned Beldame in which she earned huge pace figure. Two-turn specialist Summer Colony was strictly prepping in Beldame, but has never won with this much weight, and her ice-cold trainer went 1-for-Belmont this fall. Farda Amiga is a dangerous closer with ability to attain striking position pre-stretch call.

- Dave Litfin

Take Charge Lady rated beautifully just off the pace when she won the Spinster last out, a victory that matched her career best in terms of Beyer Figures. She should sit another ideal trip off a pace contested by Azeri and Imperial Gesture, and should capitalize. Azeri may be able to survive serious early pace pressure. She did when she won last out at Del Mar. But, she has never been looked in the eye early by as quality an opponent as Imperial Gesture, and her price will be too short to find out how she responds. Summer Colony may appreciate returning to two turns. Still, her performance in the one-turn Beldame last out was troubling. Even though they came home slow, she lacked any sort of late punch.

- Mike Watchmaker