Updated on 09/16/2011 8:33AM

Was there any doubt? Azeri cruises

Azeri crosses the wire a five-length winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff Saturday at Arlington Park.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Azeri completed her brilliant year and made a bid for Horse of the Year with a dazzling five-length victory in the $2 million , the first Breeders' Cup race Saturday at Arlington Park.

As she had done in her recent races in California, Azeri leaped to the front out of the gate, turned back a pace rival while setting quick fractions, then drew off stylishly. This field, though, was the toughest she had faced all year, and her impressive victory - her seventh straight and eighth in nine starts this year - surely had to impress whatever doubters remained.

"She's never been in danger of losing a race since she started her win streak," said Laura de Seroux, Azeri's trainer. "It's rare that you can find a horse that can put together a win streak like that, who's been second only once in her life."

Azeri was the 9-5 favorite, a price that was slightly higher than expected. Bettors, perhaps, were alarmed when Azeri came on the track wearing front leg wraps for the first time, but

de Seroux said she was merely being overprotective.

"Horses coming from the West Coast are not used to wet tracks, and they're not used to the sand and grit that they find here," de Seroux said. "That was strictly precautionary, so she didn't burn her heels."

Azeri broke alertly from the gate - "The best she's ever broke," jockey Mike Smith said - and raced well off the rail while setting fractions of 23.47 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 46.20 seconds for the half. Imperial Gesture remained one length behind and just to the outside of Azeri as they sped to the six-furlong mark in 1:09.70.

"I knew she was fast enough to sustain that pace. I told Mike to let her run today," de Seroux said. "I had her in my binoculars and I could see she was running comfortably. She was doing it on her own. Mike wasn't asking her. I never lacked any confidence at all and I knew she'd kick away."

As the field advanced around the far turn, Azeri began to inch away from Imperial Gesture, and when she hit the top of the stretch and changed leads, Azeri opened a daylight advantage. She passed the mile mark in 1:35.32 and completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast but wet track in 1:48.64.

Farda Amiga, the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes winner, rallied from fourth and nailed Imperial Gesture right on the line to claim second. "She fought gamely to get past Imperial Gesture," said Pat Day, who rode Farda Amiga.

Starrer was another 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth, and was followed in order by Mandy's Gold, Take Charge Lady, Two Item Limit, and Summer Colony.

John Velazquez, who rode Summer Colony, said his filly "didn't seem to handle" the track.

"I never had any horse at any point of the race. She didn't run at all," Velazquez said.

Azeri ($5.60) has now won 10 times in 11 starts, her lone loss coming in her fourth race, the Feb. 9 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita. She won five Grade 1 races this year.

"I didn't want to be overconfident or bullish, because that's not very gracious, but she is a simply fantastic filly," de Seroux said. "She's so fast and she's so relaxed doing it. Quite honestly, I just felt that she was faster than the rest."

Azeri, a 4-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter out of the Ahoonoora mare Zodiac Miss, was bred by the late Allen Paulson, and is owned by his estate, headed by his son Michael.

"This is a very emotional day," Paulson said. "I wish my father was here."