Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Azeri beats the boys, wins Eclipse

By Beth Harris
The Associated Press

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - It was ladies' night at the Eclipse Awards as Azeri, a 4-year-old filly who lost only once in 2002, was chosen thoroughbred racing's Horse of the Year on Monday night.

Her trainer, Laura de Seroux, became the first woman to train a Horse of the Year winner.

"I really don't think about that sort of thing," she said. "I've repeatedly said gender is not an issue with me. On the flip side of me, maybe it's going to start sinking in. I didn't realize that there's been no female trainer of Horse of the Year. Good for us."

Although she never ran against male horses, Azeri won eight of nine starts, including the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

"This is Azeri's Oscar, I mean Eclipse," said de Seroux, who accepted the award from actor Tobey Maguire, who stars in the upcoming "Seabiscuit" movie.

"If Azeri were here accepting this award for Horse of the Year, I think she'd say, 'You like me, you really, really like me."'

Azeri earned more than $2.1 million for owner the Allen Paulsen Living Trust, which will sell Azeri at auction at a Barretts sale in Pomona on March 4.

"She's a super horse," said Michael Paulsen, who accepted on behalf of his late father. "She couldn't be present. She's sleeping in her stall, but she will return and when she does I'm sure she'll be in championship form."

Michael Paulsen said he and his brothers plan to bid for Azeri as part of a group that could include former Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, who attended the awards at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel.

In the voting, Azeri defeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, retired Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Rock of Gibraltar, both 3-year-old colts, and 5-year-old horse Left Bank, winner of the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

Azeri became the first filly since Lady's Secret in 1986 to win Horse of the Year and just the third of her sex to take racing's top award first presented in 1971. All Along won in 1983.

Azeri also was the unanimous winner of the Eclipse for older females in balloting by the Daily Racing Form, National Turf Writers Association and National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

War Emblem, whose bid to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner ended when he stumbled at the start of the Belmont Stakes, was voted top 3-year-old colt. He beat Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d'Oro and Santa Anita Derby winner Came Home. War Emblem is now at stud in Japan.

Richard Mulhall, racing manager for The Thoroughbred Corp., and trainer Bob Baffert accepted on behalf of the late Ahmed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian prince who died of a heart attack at 43 in July.

"I just wish he was here to accept the award for himself," Mulhall said. "I want to thank Bob for doing a great job training the horse and his whole staff. Victor Espinoza for riding the horse. He rode him to perfection, even in the Belmont he didn't fall off."

Vindication, a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew who went undefeated in four starts last year, was named top 2-year-old colt. Trained by Baffert, Vindication won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to position himself as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Storm Flag Flying, trained by Shug McGaughey and owned by Ogden Mills Phipps, won 2-year-old filly honors. She also won all four of her starts last year, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, where her late stretch rally to beat Composure made for the best race on the Breeders' Cup card at Arlington Park.

"Truly deserving. She's a lovely filly and we are really thankful to have her," Phipps said.

Farda Amiga, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, was named 3-year-old filly, triggering a wild celebration by the filly's Brazilian owners. They jumped up and down, waved their country's green and yellow flag and tossed glittery confetti.

"The dream comes true," co-owner Julio Camargo said. "Thanks Farda Amiga for the great moments you gave our family. This moment will be unforgettable for us."

Left Bank was voted older male; Orientate, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint for trainer D. Wayne Lukas, was named sprinter; Irish-breds High Chaparral and Golden Apples won male and female turf horse awards, respectively.

"All of these champions have one common theme and that is they win when they're supposed to," Lukas said in accepting Orientate's award for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis. "They meet the best the industry has to offer and they succeed. They show excellence week in and week out. They ultimately become favorites of the public and the industry and they are named champions."

Flat Top was chosen steeplechase horse of the year.

Horses weren't the only winners during the 32nd annual ceremony.

East Coast-based Jerry Bailey won a record sixth Eclipse as jockey of the year. He broke his own record for single-season earnings with $22,871,814. Bailey wasn't present.

The apprentice jockey winner was Maryland-based Ryan Fogelsonger, who earned $3,857,362.

"Wow. It's kind of hard being up here looking at everybody," Fogelsonger said. "I'm a little nervous."

Bobby Frankel, whose earnings of $17,748,340 nearly broke the 1988 record set by Lukas, was chosen trainer of the year for the fourth time.

"I really appreciate this award, but I got to give credit to the great owners I have," Frankel said. "I couldn't do it without the horses, but to make it real easy, you need real good help. I'm a little volatile person, so I need calm people behind me."

Frankel, who splits his time between the East Coast and California, introduced his top assistants on both coasts, who have been with him since the 1970s.

"I can go to sleep at night knowing that everything is going to be taken care of," he said.

The breeder award went to Frankel's top client, Juddmonte Farms, and Richard Englander was voted owner of the year.

The Eclipse Awards are named after the 18th century horse Eclipse, who was undefeated in 18 career starts and sired winners of more than 300 races, including three Epsom Derbies.

Eclipse Award winners

Horse of the Year - Azeri.

Two-year-old male - Vindication.

Two-year-old filly - Storm Flag Flying.

Three-year-old male - War Emblem.

Three-year-old filly - Farda Amiga.

Older male - Left Bank.

Older female - Azeri.

Sprinter - Orientate.

Turf male - High Chapparral.

Turf female - Golden Apples.

Steeplechase - Flat Top.

Jockey - Jerry Bailey.

Apprentice jockey - Ryan Fogelsonger.

Trainer - Bobby Frankel.

Breeder - Juddmonte Farms.

Owner - Richard Englander.

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