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Updated on 09/17/2011 6:51PM
Paulson: Azeri belongs in Classic
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Giving Azeri a chance to run against males is something owner Michael Paulson has desired for more than two years. And even though she was soundly defeated in her one start against males, earlier this year in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, Paulson thought there were enough extenuating circumstances in that race to merit giving her another chance in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park.
Paulson believes Azeri never performed at her best at Belmont, and is more effective around two turns than one. She had both those obstacles against her in the Met Mile. But the decision by Paulson and trainer D. Wayne Lukas to put Azeri in the 1 1/4-mile Classic ran deeper than tossing out one race. Paulson, in an interview this week from his Las Vegas home, intimated that a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Distaff - which Azeri won in 2002 - would have been a case of been there, done that.
"The Distaff, looking at all the polls and the rankings, she obviously would have been a heavy favorite," Paulson said. "She's beaten all the top mares this year - Island Fashion, Sightseek, Storm Flag Flying. She's got an impeccable record at 1 1/8 miles. I mean, you never know going into a race, but she would have had a very good chance of winning the Distaff.
"The Classic, a lot of work, a lot of analysis went into it, talking to Wayne and various people. Looking at the Classic the last several years, no favorite has won the race back to back. We're going in with a horse we know is capable. Looking at the various horses in the race, a lot of them haven't gone a mile and a quarter. She has."
Azeri finished second to Storm Flag Flying in the Personal Ensign Handicap.
"Even in defeat in that race, she ran well," Paulson said. "And Wayne has changed her bit and bridle since then. Pat Day told us he heard a noise, and if you look at pictures of the race you can see her tongue hanging out. We think it might have been blocking her air. Wayne corrected that with a new bit and bridle.
"We also looked at the pace of the race, at the last races of the other horses. A lot of those horses had hard races. In the Spinster, she did it so easy. She was on her toes walking out of the winner's circle. And Wayne says she's never been better. We think this is the right race."
Paulson said he is not sure if this will be Azeri's last race, but indicated she will head to the breeding shed next spring.
"We don't have to make that decision until early next year," he said.
In the Gold out of Juvenile Fillies
In the Gold, who was listed as the co-fourth choice in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, was scratched out of the race on Wednesday due to a fever, trainer Nick Zito confirmed on Thursday.
The scratch reduced the field to 12 runners. In the Gold was included in the head-to-head wager but has been replaced with Play With Fire.
Zito said the fever was diagnosed Wednesday afternoon. He said he had no choice but to treat In the Gold with strong antibiotics.
"It was something you can't play around with," Zito said. "Before we did anything stupid we scratched her. She's normal now. I've never seen a horse that had anything run well in big races. It's a shame when it happened because she was doing so good. But like a friend of mine said, it's not bad luck, it's normal luck."
In the Gold, owned by Live Oak Plantation, was coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Alcibiades at Keeneland.
Zito said he would look to run In the Gold this fall at Churchill Downs, most likely in the $200,000 Golden Rod on Nov. 27.
The Juvenile Fillies field started with 16 pre-entrants. Since then, Enduring Will, Ready's Gal, Quiet Honor, and In the Gold have been declared to injury or illness.
Three stakes on undercard
Royal Regalia's connections had a backup plan when they traveled from Canada to Texas for the Breeders' Cup Mile. If they were unable to draw into the field, there was always the $100,000 Texas Turf, which is one of three stakes on the Breeders' Cup undercard.
Royal Regalia will be a standout in the 1 1/8-mile Texas Turf. In his last two starts he has run third to Breeders' Cup starters Soaring Free and Nothing to Lose in stakes at Woodbine and Saratoga, respectively.
Royal Regalia set a course record at Woodbine in July, when he won a one-turn turf race in 1:31.80 for a mile. He has won two races at the nine-furlong distance he will travel on Saturday.
Spanish Chestnut, an impressive debut winner at Keeneland, will be favored when he makes his stakes debut for trainer Patrick Biancone in the $100,000 Lone Star Park Juvenile over seven furlongs. Spanish Chestnut, who has been training at Lone Star for the past few weeks, earned a Beyer Figure of 93 for his debut on Oct. 13. He was a $500,000 purchase at auction by Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor.
Pie N Burger, who won a stakes on the Breeders' Cup undercard last year at Santa Anita, will try to do the same in the $100,000 Metroplex Mile. His chief threats include During, who stretches out from six furlongs, Akanti, who won the local prep, and Intelligent Male, winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel.
A fourth undercard stakes scheduled, the $100,000 Honeysuckle Rose, did not fill when entries were taken on Wednesday.
If you search, tickets still can be had
Because there is no general admission available Saturday at Lone Star Park, many fans from out of town have been wondering if it would be worth the risk to travel to Dallas without having a ticket to the event. Most of the 51,034 or so seats available for Breeders' Cup were sold out by June.
Judging by the e-Bay website, you can probably still get a seat - and probably for face value or even less. As of Thursday, there were 120 BC ticket packages for sale on e-Bay, and virtually none of them had attracted bids of face value or greater. That surely means there are many more ticketholders who would probably be willing to sell under the right circumstances.
The problem, of course, is how and where those sales would take place. At all major sporting events there exists a black market through which tickets change hands. Breeders' Cup officials flatly state they do not condone "scalping," but the reality is that would-be buyers and sellers most likely will be in ample supply in the Lone Star parking lot Saturday morning.
Ticket prices to the general public range from $25 to $125, with premium seats carrying a face value of $325 or more.
This is the second time that a Breeders' Cup host instituted a policy of no general admission. Arlington Park was the first to do so in 2002.
Kentucky, California shippers fare best
When it comes to horses shipping to Lone Star Park for non-restricted stakes, those from Kentucky and California have made the most noise, but those regions have also produced significantly more starters than states such as New York and Florida.
Horses who made their last start in Kentucky have won 15 dirt stakes from 53 starts at Lone Star since the track opened in 1997. That is more than any other state. On turf, California has ruled, with horses making their last start there winning 13 of 55 turf stakes starts at Lone Star.
Horses who last raced in Florida have made just 27 starts at Lone Star since 1997, but have won five dirt stakes, including the Lone Star Derby and Texas Mile. Only four horses who last raced in New York have started in stakes in Texas, and they have won one stakes, Congaree's Lone Star Park Handicap in 2002.
Congaree was returning from a layoff, and had last raced at Saratoga.
Horses who last raced in California have won four dirt stakes from 31 dirt stakes starts at Lone Star since 1997, while horses whose last start came in Kentucky have won 11 turf stakes in 66 turf stakes starts in Grand Prairie.
Migliore's mounts in jeopardy
Richard Migliore, who is scheduled to ride Artie Schiller in the Breeders' Cup Mile, was taken to North Shore University Hospital after his mount in Thursday's fourth race at Aqueduct unseated the rider in the starting gate.
Migliore was aboard Pavlina, who acted up in the gate and was a late scratch.
Migliore was removed from the track on a stretcher. There was no word on his condition as of 2:45 p.m., according to his agent, Drew Mollica, who was on his way to the hospital.
Braulio Baeza, the assistant clerk of scales, said he was told that Migliore was complaining of pain in his right arm, the one he broke in a spill in 1999, and discomfort in his rib area.
Migliore is also named on Bwana Charlie in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Canani can join elite company
Julio Canani has spent the last few weeks declining to compare the two horses he will run Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Indeed, comparisons are difficult: Special Ring is a 7-year-old who tends to run his best races on the front end, while Blackdoun is a 3-year-old who comes from far back in the pack.
"They are both very, very good horses," said Canani. "I don't know which one is better. They have never raced against each other. We will see Saturday."
Canani has used a somewhat unorthodox approach to the Mile this time by bypassing a final prep race for either horse in the weeks leading to the Breeders' Cup. Blackdoun last raced Sept. 6, when he won the Del Mar Derby, while Special Ring has run only one time all year, winning the Grade 1 Eddie Read on July 25.
"Both horses are doing super," said Canani. "I am very happy."
If one of his horses can pull off a win, Canani will join elite company in the ranks of Breeders' Cup trainers. Having won the Mile in 1999 with Silic and in 2001 with Val Royal, Canani would become just the third trainer to win a single Breeders' Cup at least three times. The others are D. Wayne Lukas, who has done it with three different BC events (Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies, Distaff), and Ron McAnally, who won the Distaff three times (1989-90-92).
Gaines reliving old times
John R. Gaines, the founder of the Breeders Cup, said he is pleased to see the championship series come to Texas.
"I think Texas will receive [the Breeders' Cup] with a great deal of inspiration because it has a long tradition of racing and it's been many years since a really great event [was held] in Texas," said Gaines. "It's reliving old times."
Texas had one of the nation's top tracks in the 1930's in Arlington Downs, before pari-mutuel wagering was banned. Pari-mutuels were not reinstated in the state until the 1980's, and today, Lone Star operates just miles from the old site of Arlington Downs.
Lone Star opened in 1997, and is the youngest track to ever host a Breeders' Cup.
- additional reporting by David Grening, Karen M. Johnson, Marty McGee, and Mary Rampellini