BREEDERS' CUP NOTES
|Contact: Jim Gluckson, NTRA, (212) 907-9284
HORSE OF THE YEAR AZERI RETURNS SATURDAY AT OAKLAWN; LEADS SIX 2002 BREEDERS' CUP CHAMPIONS BACK ON THE "ROAD"
Allen Paulson Living Trust's marvelous filly AZERI left a lasting impression after she won the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Arlington Park last fall by five lengths and was later voted Eclipse champion in her division as well as Horse of the Year after a brilliant campaign.
Trainer Laura de Seroux has the 5-year-old chestnut daughter of Jade Hunter set to start back on the 2003 "Road to the World Thoroughbred Championships" at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting when she makes her season debut in Saturday's $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.
Azeri is one of six Breeders' Cup winners from last October's memorable afternoon in Chicago to remain in training this year. Also scheduled to race again this season are Amherst Stable and Spruce Pond Stable's VOLPONI (Classic), Mrs. John Magnier and Michael Tabor's HIGH CHAPARRAL (IRE) (John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf), Padua Stable's VINDICATION (Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile), Niarchos Family's DOMEDRIVER (IRE) (NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile) and Ogden Mills Phipps' STORM FLAG FLYING (Long John Silver's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies).
Azeri's wire-to-wire romp in the Distaff under jockey Mike Smith was the homebred's seventh straight in a major stakes and 10th in just 11 lifetime starts during a career that began only days after the 2001 Breeders' Cup. She won last year's Apple Blossom and is expected face to a stiff challenge in Saturday's renewal.
Steeplechase Farm's MAND'YS GOLD and Select Stable's TAKE CHARGE LADY, among those who chased Azeri home in the Distaff at Arlington, are expected to test the champion again in the Apple Blossom along with Janis Whitham's top-class mare AFFLUENT.
Sharing the spotlight on Saturday's Oaklawn card will be the $500,000 Oaklawn Park Handicap at 1 1/8 miles with Edmund Gann's 4-year-old MEDAGLIA D'ORO likely to be a solid favorite for trainer Bobby Frankel after a stunning victory in the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 1. The son of El Prado (IRE) finished second in the Classic last year behind Volponi, with Stronach Stable's MILWAUKEE BREW a neck back in third.
Frankel also has Milwaukee Brew back in his powerful stable. The 6-year-old Wild Again horse rallied to score a repeat victory in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 1, a win that came at the direct expense of Stonerside Stable's CONGAREE, who appears likely to be a major player in the Classic division this year for trainer Bob Baffert.
Frankel's hand in this year's Classic division appears quite solid with Medaglia d'Oro and Milwaukee Brew but may very well get stronger still as the Visa Triple Crown campaign unfolds this spring. Frankel has the current Kentucky Derby favorite in Juddmonte Farms' Florida Derby winner EMPIRE MAKER, who is due for a final prep in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12.
Volponi won the Classic at Arlington by 6½ lengths, posting a stunning upset at odds of 43-to-1 under Jose Santos. Trainer and co-owner P.G. Johnson has indicated that the homebred son of Cryptoclearance will make his 5-year-old debut in a race at Belmont Park in May or June.
Another veteran of the Classic at Arlington who appears likely to make a big impression in the division this season is Jack and Laurie Wolf's 4-year-old HARLAN'S HOLIDAY. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the son of Harlan has come back strong this winter with a solid tally in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February and a game runner-up performance last Saturday in the Dubai World Cup.
Godolphin's 4-year-old MOON BALLAD (IRE) won the rich Dubai test by five lengths under jockey Frankie Dettori, and his connections already have him targeted for the Classic at Santa Anita. Trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Moon Ballad is a homebred son of Singspiel (IRE), winner of the 1997 Dubai World Cup and runner-up the year before in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine. The flashy colt will be sent to Godolphin's training yard in Newmarket until his next goal is set.
High Chaparral, Sulamani Top Europeans in John Deere Turf Division
Coolmore's 2002 English and Irish Derby hero High Chaparral starred in one of the most compelling performances of the afternoon at Arlington when he surged through the stretch to capture the Turf by more than a length over Augustin Stable's American hope WITH ANTICIPATION. Although the Turf was his lone North American start, High Chaparral was voted Eclipse champion.
Trainer Aidan O'Brien and the Coolmore team have indicated the Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 6 could mark High Chaparral's return to campaign for a repeat bid in the Turf at Santa Anita. With Anticipation, a charismatic gray 8-year-old gelding by Relaunch, remains in training as an 8-year-old with trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
Another result from Saturday's Dubai races likely to have an impact on the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita was the Dubai Sheema Classic run over the 12-furlong distance of the Turf. Godolphin's 4-year-old Irish-bred SULAMANI (IRE) looked awesome in a powerful stretch charge to win with Dettori aboard.
The son of Hernando (FR), who won the French Derby last year for the Niarchos family, was purchased privately in the fall by Godolphin. He was making his first start of the year in the Sheema Classic after a runner-up performance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in early October.
High Chaparral was a close-up third in the French championship. Sulamani's summer target is the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot on July 26, with a possible rematch against High Chaparral the month before in the Coronation.
Vindication completed a perfect four-for-four campaign by winning the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington by 2¾ lengths over The Thoroughbred Corp.'s KAFWAIN, both trained by Bob Baffert. Voted Eclipse champion, Vindication was injured training for his 3-year-old debut at Santa Anita, although his connections are hopeful the son of Seattle Slew can return to the races by late summer or fall.
Kafwain, however, has trained well this winter for Baffert, who once again may have a number of Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown prospects in his stable. A son of Cherokee Run, Kafwain was upset last out when second in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 9. (He was later disqualified after testing positive for the bronchodilator clenbuterol.) The $720,000 2-year-old purchase will get a final major Derby test in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.
Prior to Volponi's huge upset victory in the Classic at Arlington, Niarchos Family's 4-year-old French invader Domedriver (IRE) lit up the tote board with a 26-to-1 shocker in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile. He won by three-quarters length over Sir Alex Furguson and Susan Magnier's 4-to-5 favorite Rock of Gibraltar, who had a dreadful trip from nearly last of 14 at the top of the stretch.
The very talented Rock of Gibraltar has been retired to stud in Ireland by Coolmore but Domedriver will be back for another campaign out of Pascal Bary's training yard in France. The first major goal for the son of Indian Ridge will be the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville on Aug. 17, a race in which he finished second last year.
Storm Flag Flying Set for Spring Return
Just a half-hour after Azeri's dominating performance in the Distaff at Arlington, fans may have seen another filly destined for greatness when trainer Shug McGaughey sent out the beautifully bred Storm Flag Flying for a game victory over Bob and Beverly Lewis's Composure in the Long John Silver's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
A daughter of Storm Cat, Storm Flag Flying remained undefeated in four career starts and was duly voted Eclipse champion, continuing a remarkable family tradition. Her dam, My Flag, won the 1995 Juvenile Fillies and her second dam is the legendary Personal Ensign, who completed her undefeated career winning the 1988 Distaff at Churchill Downs. All three females were bred and raced by the Phipps family and trained by McGaughey.
Storm Flag Flying has been training strongly at Gulfstream Park this winter for her season debut, which is likely to be the Comely Stakes at Aqueduct on April 18. Unfortunately, Composure was injured after winning the Santa Anita Oaks on March 8 for trainer Bob Baffert and has been retired.
Two Breeders' Cup champions from Arlington were retired after their biggest career victories. Bob and Beverly Lewis' Orientate was up in time for a narrow half-length score in the Sprint over Charles Mady's Thunderello, with Carl Grether's CRAFTY C.T. another half-length back in third.
Adding another victory to trainer D. Wayne Lukas' record Breeders' Cup totals, Orientate sealed an Eclipse Award campaign with his fifth straight stakes victory in the Sprint. His connections decided to retire the son of Mt. Livermore for stud duty in Kentucky this year.
Crafty C.T. is back for another campaign with trainer Howard Zucker, and the 5-year-old son of Crafty Prospector finished second last out in the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita on March 2. He is expected to make his next start in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 12.
Expected to join the Sprint division in the United States at some point this season is S.M.R.M.'s 4-year-old Kentucky-bred STATE CITY. The son of Carson City pulled off a 60-to-1 upset in Saturday's Dubai Golden Shaheen. Cee's Stable's AVANZADO (ARG) and Bob Bone and Jeff Diener's CAPTAIN SQUIRE were the American-trained favorites but settled for second and third, respectively.
State City is trained by Dubai-based Irish horseman Paddy Rudkin, and the chestnut colt had made all of his 10 previous career starts in Dubai over the last two years, laboring in the modest handicap ranks for total earnings of little more than $150,000. Rudkin said after the race that the colt probably will go to the United States to be placed with a trainer to be named later.
Rudkin also noted that he was encouraged about State City's chances in the Golden Shaheen after Kenneth Taylor and partners' 2001 Eclipse champion mare XTRA HEAT was scratched by trainer John Salzman, Sr. the day after getting cast in her stall. Runner-up in the 2001 Sprint at Belmont and sixth in the Arlington renewal, the 5-year-old daughter of Dixieland Heat won impressively her only two starts this year at Laurel Park. Salzman suggested the remarkable mare should have no problem getting back on track at home in the United States.
Although Orientate is retired and will not bid for a repeat victory in the Sprint, another former Sprint champion may make it to Santa Anita. Trainer and co-owner Bruce Headley continues to campaign the 9-year-old KONA GOLD. Winner of the 2000 Sprint at Churchill Downs in track record time, the resilient son of Java Gold finished third in Saturday's Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita and could bid for an unprecedented sixth Breeders' Cup start.
The other 2002 Breeders' Cup champion to be retired was Bobby Frankel's mare Starine (FR), who posted a half-length upset in the Filly & Mare Turf for her owner-trainer. Frankel also sent out Juddmonte Farms' Banks Hill (GB) to finish second as the second choice at Arlington. Frankel decided to retire Starine, and the 5-year-old was sold shortly thereafter as a broodmare prospect in Kentucky.
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