Azeri, horse of the year in 2002 and then retired for a time last year, is back at the top of her game and on target for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff later this month at Lone Star Park in Texas.
Meanwhile, one of her chief rivals, Sightseek, also won during the weekend but now will rest on her laurels in hopes of claiming a year-end championship.
Azeri won Sunday's $500,000 Overbrook Spinster Stakes at Keeneland with ease, besting a half-dozen rivals and scoring by 3 lengths. She ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.74. It was her 17th win in 23 career starts. Tamweel was second and Mayo On the Side was third.
"What can you say?" asked winning rider Pat Day. "This is a great mare. I thought she would love this racetrack and she did."
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, already campaigning for another championship for Azeri, said he thinks she "ranks right up there as one of the all-time best mares. I've had some good ones (including Serena's Song, Lady's Secret, Winning Colors and Spain), but you should always like the one you're dating."
-- Sightseek is headed to the breeding shed, not to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. But trainer Bobby Frankel is making the case that her 2 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $750,000 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park is enough for her to be named champion. After setting a slow pace with Javier Castellano up, Sightseek took complete charge in the stretch and won easily. "I never really let her run," Castellano said. She finished in 1:49.60, with Society Selection, victor earlier this year in the Society and the Test, second and Storm Flag Flying third. Sightseek's primary rival for year-end honors will be Azeri. They have split two meetings this year. Azeri is expected to run in the Distaff.
In other weekend racing with implications for the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park in Texas:
$1.5 million Bessemer Trust Juvenile
-- Consolidator will head to the Juvenile with momentum after a convincing victory in Saturday's $500,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. The son of Storm Cat went by pace-setting Bellamy Road with a quarter mile to go in the Futurity and finished 2 lengths ahead of Patriot Act in 1:43.67. Diamond Isle was third. Robert and Beverly Lewis bought Consolidator for $1.25 million at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale. He now has two wins from six starts and trainer D. Wayne Lukas is looking forward to the Breeders' Cup. "He'll fit down there real well. He has good tactical speed and I think he'll get into the race. We're looking forward to it."
-- Wholelottabourbon battled all the way around the track before winning Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Bull Page Stakes by a nose, picking up his fourth win in five starts. Enough is Enough was second and Quick in Deed was third. Final time was 1:11.22. "He did have a little trouble handling the racetrack today," said jockey David Clark. "He was kind of scrambling and didn't get ahold of it as much as you'd like. But he dug deep and finished up." Wholelottabourbon also has won the Colin and Silver Deputy this year.
-- Proud Accolade scored his third win in three starts with a victory over previously undefeated Afleet Alex in Saturday's $500,000 Champagne at Belmont Park. Both are likely to go on to the Juvenile. Proud Accolade got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.30 with John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher. Afleet Alex had some difficulty finding running room during the race.
-- Killenaule led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $100,000 Dover Stakes at Delaware Park. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus got home 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Wild Desert, with Lord Salvatore third. The favorite, Spanish Mission, was fourth. Killenaule covered the 1 mile in 1:46 4/5 with Chris DeCarlo up, picking up his first stakes victory and third overall from seven career starts.
$1 million Juvenile Fillies
-- Balletto got running room on the inside in the stretch drive of Saturday's $500,000 Frizette at Belmont Park and drove through to win by 3/4 length over Ready's Gal. Balletto, with Corey Nakatani aboard, won for the third time in four career starts. But trainer Tom Albertrani said he does not know for sure whether the daughter of Timber Country will contest the Juvenile Fillies.
-- Runway Model went to the post a 17-1 chance in Friday's $400,000 Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland, then went on to win by a a head over Sharp Lisa. In the Gold was third. "She is a true two-turn horse," said winning trainer Bernie Flint. "I think she'll do well in the Breeders' Cup." After trailing early and running five-wide into the stretch, Runway Model finished in 1:44.31 under Rafael Bejarano.
$1.5 million NetJets Mile (turf)
-- Nothing to Lose had a trip to Texas to gain in Saturday's $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. The 4-year-old son of Sky Classic swung wide to reach contention on the turn, got to the front with a furlong to go and won off by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:35 2/5. Honor in War was second and Silver Tree third. Perfect Soul, the favorite, finished seventh. "It was a great trip," said winning rider Robby Albarado. "Mr. Ramsey (owner Kenneth) said to trust his turn of foot and I did. He just drew away." Nothing to Lose has won six times in 13 starts and goes to the Breeders' Cup Mile at Lone Star Park with momentum.
-- Musical Chimes took on male rivals and beat 'em all in Saturday's $250,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile, edging Buckland Manlor by a nose. The favorite, Singletary, was just another nose back in third. With Kent Desormeaux up, Musical Chimes stayed right behind the leaders in the early going, then came between horses to win in a four-horse blanket finish. Trainer Neil Drysdale said he now has lots of options for the Breeders' Cup, including the Distaff on the main track or the Mile on the turf. "It could be anything," he said. Said winning rider Kent Desormeaux: "she just refused to lose in that last sixteenth."
-- Mr O'Brien beat Millennium Dragon by 1 1/4 length in Saturday's $250,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup At Belmont Park. Mr O'Brien finished in 1:32.69. Stroll, the favorite, finished fourth in the Kelso and trainer Bill Mott said he still might go on to Lone Star Park. The winner is not nominated to the Breeder's Cup and is unlikely to be supplemented.
$1 million Sprint
Pt's Grey Eagle upset Sunday's $200,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, swinging five-wide into the stretch and then wearing down Pohave in deep stretch to win by 1/2 length. Hombre Rapido was third. Pt's Grey Eagle went to the post at odds of 29-1 and picked up his first stakes win under apprentice Alex Bisono. The 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Pleasant Tap was claimed for $62,500 last November. Although he is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, trainer Craig Dollase said owner J. Paul Reddam may not regard that as a barrier to his competing in the Sprint. Dollase trained Swept Overboard to win the 2001 Ancient Title for Reddam and then went on to finish fourth in the Sprint. "Stranger things have happened" than putting up the $90,000 supplemental fee for Pt's Grey Eagle, Dollase said. "There's a possibility. We'd have to ante up some money but Paul's never been afraid to do that. So, we'll see."
$2 million John Deere Turf
Jose Santos didn't let Mustanfar run until the last quarter mile of Saturday's $150,000 Sycamore Breeders' Cup at Keeneland but, when he did, the only 3-year-old in the field surged ahead to win by 3 lengths over Deputy Strike. Rochester, who won this race in 2001 and 2002, finished third. Mustanfar, a son of Unbridled, ran the 12 furlongs in 2:30.88 over firm turf. "He was a little bit tough early but I just waited until the last quarter and he took off," said Santos. Mustanfar is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.
$1 million Filly & Mare Turf
Stay Forever rallied from well back to win Sunday's $500,000 WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland by 1/2 length over Super Brand. Shaconage was third after leading early in the race. Stay Forever, a 7-year-old mare, ran 1 3/16 mile in 1:57.09 under Eddie Castro. "The pace was slow," Castro said. "But it doesn't matter with her. She always gives her best in the stretch. Today it was enough to get the job done." Stay Forever improved her record to 10 wins from 17 career starts.
$4 million Classic, Powered by Dodge
Balto Star got the lead turning into the stretch in Friday night's $500,000 Meadowlands Breeders' Cup Handicap and held off the favorite, Dynever, to win by 1/2 length. Gygistar was third. The race went in 1:48 3/5. But trainer Todd Pletcher said he still is not sure which race is right for Balto Star in the Breeders' Cup. "He's very accomplished on dirt, so we didn't have any reservations about running him here," Pletcher said. "We've had this race in mind for a while. The Breeders' Cup Turf is a distinct possibility but we may cross-enter in the Classic. The last time he went dirt-to-turf was when he ran second in the Oceanport at Monmouth and won the United Nations. Balto Star is a 6-year-old Glitterman gelding. Christophe Clement said Dynever is ready for the Breeders' Cup, too, but he's definitely going to the Classic.
In other weekend racing:
Hawthorne Race Course
Scooter Roach came running at the end of Saturday's $150,000 Robert F. Carey Memorial to win by a neck over Gin and Sin. After sitting off the pace into the stretch, jockey Jesse Campbell got running room and just got the better of the pace contender. Coudy's Knight was a close third. "This is probably the best birthday present I ever got," said Campbell, who turned 27 Saturday. "I've been trying all day to win something. This was the race I thought I was in the toughest. I've said this horses' whole career, I just don't know how he does it. He doesn't do anything special, he's just your blue-collar horse. The distance doesn't matter. He just does it. He's a working mans' horse." Scooter Roach was claimed this summer at Arlington for $62,500.
Black Rock Road remained undefeated by winning Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Carotene Stakes despite wandering through the stretch. With Todd Kabel trying to steer a straight course, the 3-year-old filly finished 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Velvet Snow. Charming Proposal was third. The 9 furlongs took 1:48.18. "She was pretty green throughout the lane, looking at the grandstand, but she's all racehorse," said Kabel. "You hope that you're not cutting anybody off that may be flying at you."
Calder Race Course
Keep Cool surged right to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Flying Pidgeon Handicap and held on, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over favorite Twilight Road. The victory was almost a carbon copy of Keep Cool's last race. The 4-year-old gelding finished the 9-furlong Flying Pidgeon in 1:50 3/5 over the turf. Winning rider Jose Rivera II: "When I'm on the lead like this, they're not going to beat me. I know my timing. Twenty-five years riding here, I've had to learn something."
Lady Tak lagged behind Motlo Vito until the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000 Gallant Bloom, then took charge and won in the late going. Zawzooth was third. Lady Tak, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Mutakddim, ran her record to 10 wins from 17 starts. The victory backed up her score last time out in the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga.