Azeri is enjoying her life as a broodmare at Northern Farm. (Photo courtesy of Northern Farm)
One of the best mares of the early 21st century, even 10 years after her final race one only has to utter Azeri’s name and people know who you are talking about.
Starting as a late 3-year-old for trainer Laura De Seroux, Azeri won her first three races by a combined margin of 12 lengths. Her first blip came when she finished second in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes but it was the last loss she would suffer for more than a year. Azeri reeled off 11 straight graded stakes victories, including eight Grade 1s.
During that streak was nestled her most important and impressive victory, the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
2002 BREEDERS’ CUP DISTAFF
In a style she had adopted during her win streak, Azeri took the lead in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and simply overwhelmed the opposition. The only other female to get within a length of her was Imperial Gesture, who sat in second for most of the race before fading to third. Azeri left everyone in the dust as the field turned for home and just lengthened her lead during the stretch run, winning by 5 lengths at the finish line.
“She's an amazing filly,” regular rider Mike Smith told ESPN after the race. “The first two or three jumps, she opened up a length. Once I got to the backside, she really leveled out nice, and I was smiling from then on. I think she's the best filly I've ever ridden.”
The Distaff was her last race of the year, and her dominance of the female division not only earned her the first champion older female title of her career, but also saw her named the 2002 Horse of the Year.
Also among Azeri’s victories during her unbeaten streak were back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom, a race she would ultimately win three times.
The streak was snapped in the Lady’s Secret Handicap when Azeri was slow into stride and raced in second to last for most of the race. Azeri could only manage to get to third by the finish line but was promoted to second when the runner-up was disqualified for interference.
Azeri headed for a Breeders’ Cup repeat but her tendon swelled a few days before the 2003 Distaff and she was scratched from the race. Owner Michael Paulson revealed that the mare was booked to A.P. Indy for the following breeding season and it was thought she would be retired. But that plan was put on hold over the winter and Azeri was sent to D. Wayne Lukas for the 2004 season.
AZERI BEFORE THE VANITY, A RACE SHE WON TWICE DURING HER STREAK
Photo by HorsePhotos
In her first start of the year, she looked to add to her two consecutive Apple Blossom victories. Azeri went straight to the lead in her customary style and pulled away for a 1 ½- length victory in her first start for her new trainer. She added another page to the history books with the win, becoming the first three-time victress of the race. A month later, she was second by a head in the Humana Distaff Handicap, but it gave her connections enough faith to try her against males for the first time in the Met Mile.
With Pat Day on her for the first time, Azeri was within 1 ¼ lengths of the leader for much of the race but when asked to go, she had no response and finished eighth.
After a fourth-place finish in the Odgen Phipps in her following start, Azeri finally returned to the winner’s circle. She got a chance to lead wire-to-wire again in the Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga, showing shades of her former self with a 1 ¾-length victory over top females Sightseek and Storm Flag Flying.
Storm Flag Flying got her revenge 27 days later in the Personal Ensign Handicap when she beat Azeri by 1 ¼ lengths, denying Azeri her third win of the season. Azeri won her final prep race for the Breeders’ Cup, taking home the Spinster Stakes, and it looked like she was headed back to the Distaff. But after discussions between her connections the week before the Breeders’ Cup, the mare headed to the Breeders’ Cup Classic in an attempt to become the first female to win the Classic.
“She's very good right now,” Lukas told ESPN. “We're going to swing for the fences. She's already won the Distaff. We're going to see if we can do something that hasn't been done before. ”
While there was no catching Ghostzapper in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Azeri didn’t embarrass herself in the race. She finished fifth in the Classic, beating that year’s Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and the previous year’s dual-classic winner Funny Cide among other graded stakes winners in the 13-horse field.
AZERI DURING HER RACING CAREER
Azeri retired after the Classic with $4,079,820 in earnings and 17 wins and four seconds in 24 starts. While her final season on the track wasn’t as outstanding as previous years, she was named champion older female for the third time. In all, she had four championships to her name and won 11 Grade 1s during her career. In 2010, Azeri’s outstanding achievements were recognized when she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.
While her trip to 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy was delayed to bring her back for another year of racing, Azeri visited his court during her second year in her new career. The resulting colt was born on Feb. 14, 2007 and was renamed Take Control after selling for $1.9-million as a 2-year-old in his second time through the sales ring. He failed to meet his reserve price at $7.7-million at auction as a yearling. Take Control won two of his four starts and earned $70,450 during his career.
Azeri’s second foal, a filly by Giant’s Causeway named Arienza, proved to be better on the track than her brother. Selling for $800,000 as a yearling, Arienza won her first two starts as a 3-year-old and placed second in the 2011 Fantasy Stakes behind Joyful Victory during her 6-race career. Retired and bred in 2012, Arienza has a yearling colt by Tapit named Arenzano and a 2014 filly by Bernardini. She is back in foal to Tapit for 2015.
However, Azeri’s most successful foal was her last in America. Reuniting with Ghostzapper, who beat her in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Azeri produced a filly named Wine Princess. Wine Princess sold for $475,000 as a yearling, much less than any of Azeri’s other foals had brought.
Wine Princess didn’t get off to a flashy start like her sister, winning one of her first three races. But the filly got rolling in the middle of her 3-year-old season, winning an allowance than the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks. In her next seven races, she won one race and finished second or third in five stakes races before ending her career with a victory in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap. Retired at the end of 2013, Wine Princess was bred to War Front for a 2015 foal.
Sold to Katsumi Yoshida for $2.25 million in November of 2009 after not selling for $4.4 million earlier that year, Azeri’s race record caught the Japanese buyer’s attention and convinced him to spend the money needed to buy her at auction.
“Azeri … had a good racing career and stunning frame. We were itching to have [her] from the first stage. Due to unstable global economic in 2008-2009, we were very lucky to have her. Other buyers seemed not bidding aggressively in those years,” said Shunsuke Yoshida of Northern Farm, where Azeri is located.
AZERI SELLING AT THE 2009 KEENELAND NOVEMBER SALE
Azeri produced a Distorted Humor filly in 2010 named Amelie. The only one of Azeri’s foals never to go through an auction ring, Amelie has the most starts of any of her dam’s foals. In 16 starts between two and four years of age, Amelie has won three races and posted six seconds and two thirds. She last raced on June 22, winning the race.
Bred to Zenno Rob Roy during her first breeding season in Japan, Azeri's colt the following year was sold at the Japan Racing Horse Association sale as a weanling for $1,004,210. Unfortunately the colt, named Azerina Gakki, never made it to the track.
After taking a year off in 2012, Azeri has continued her domination in the sales ring. Bred to Deep Impact in 2013 and 2014, she produced two colts. Her 2013 colt, currently unnamed, topped the JRHA sale last year when bringing $2,371,200. The now-16-year-old mare one-upped herself this year when her 2014 foal again topped the sale, this time bringing $2,462,500.
Northern Farm looks to go for a three-peat with the champion mare next year as she is currently in-foal to Deep Impact for 2015.
In addition to their race-winning ways, Azeri’s foals all own a common trait by sharing their dam’s temperament.
“Her foals are like mother, [they are] unfussy and have a pleasant character. [They take] the body frame not only from [Azeri], but from their sires,” Yoshida said.
AZERI IS POPULAR WITH BOTH FARM STAFF AND THOSE WHO BUY HER FOALS
Photo by Northern Farm
Azeri settled into Japan quickly after moving to the country in late 2009 and is doing well in her new home. She is extremely popular at Northern Farm and receives a lot of attention, not only from farm staff but from others who come to visit her foals before the sales. Those who see her cantering in the field are impressed by her build and can easily see how she became a champion on the track.
“She’s got a strong hind limb, we’re impressed with her great kick when cantering,” said Yoshida. “[It is] no wonder she’s got a title of U.S. Horse of the Year.”
Those at Northern Farm realize how important she is not only to those around her but also around the world and treasure the time they spend around her.
“She is our treasure, not only to our farm, but also for the world. Every single horsemen knows her in the world, and they prove that [by bidding] on her foals, [with this year’s foal] over $2-million for second straight year. We really cherish her at Northern Farm,” Yoshida said.