Like lots of girls, she likes candy, sunshine and a roll in the hay. She also likes to win, and she does it well and often.
A day before the most tragic event in Del Mar racing history, the currently reigning Horse of the Year, Azeri, a female, ran away with the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap, winning a purse of $180,000.
With that, her 11th win in a row, Azeri is looking at becoming the most profitable chick-horse in history. The Hirsch put the winning thoroughbred at a career earnings total of $2,984,820, about $500,000 less than Spain, the top earner of all-time.
Azeri's trainer, Laura de Seroux makes it sound simple. "She's the fastest filly in the world doing what she does, which is run two turns on the dirt," said de Seroux, like a proud mother. "Technically she is not mine, but I'm the one who is lucky enough to be with her every day."
"Everything is special about this horse," said Nuno Santos, one of the Azeri's exercise riders. "She is different from the others, in temperament, in the way she gallops, everything." As a reward, Santos said Azeri is fond of peppermint candy and a nice back massage. Well, who isn't?
Only a handful of female horses have been named Horse of the Year. Azeri is the first since 1986-and the first in history to do it by racing within her gender.
Still, while there's gossip of Azeri taking the title for a second straight year, de Seroux is less interested in that goal, which would likely mean having the mare run against the top male horses. Instead, the trainer says, she is focused on attaining the title of most money earned, which means keeping Azeri happy, peaceful and in her winning streak. "It's hard to have it all," she said.
De Seroux knew immediately this was a special horse. "I got this group of horses and it was like I unwrapped the box and there she was," she said. "She turned out to be the best present of them all."
Azeri trains locally at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsal, where de Seroux also trains about 50 other horses. Many of her techniques come from the late famed horse trainer and friend Charles Whittingham.
"After his passing, I felt compelled to take over and give it a try, as if it were sort of my turn," de Seroux said. She uses his methods of familiarity and routine, as well as slower workouts than have been the norm in the past-due, she says, to the fragility of the breed.
"Make one wrong move and overmatch and ask a horse to do too much and you could start this downward slide," de Seroux said. "We have an old saying in the horseracing world, "Horses are like strawberries and they can spoil overnight.' There's a true fragility to them."
While they'll commit to only one race at a time, the tentative plan is to have Azeri stay close to home and run in the Lady's Secret Handicap race at Santa Anita on Sept. 28, before tackling the Breeder's Cup at the same track, Oct. 25. "I'm a big believer in home-court advantage," de Seroux said.
Any pressure to maintain Azeri's streak just makes the trainer more solid in doing what she feels is best for the horse. That means "keeping her in the races where she can keep winning and developing and building her incredible confidence and sense of domination," said de Seroux. "Because that has a way of continuing to make her better and better."