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Azeri's three-year-old daughter nears career debut at Oaklawn

Azeri was honored as the 2002 Horse of the Year following her BC Distaff win (Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos.com)

With news this week that the last two female Horses of the Year, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, had both made their first trips to the breeding shed, trainer Danny Peitz anxiously peers down his shedrow at one product of a high-powered female champion as Azeri's second foal ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway) is nearing a career debut at Oaklawn Park.

"I only hope that she's half as good as her mom," said Peitz of the three-year-old filly out of the Hall of Fame racemare. She is owned by Robert and Lawana Low, Peitz's main clients.

Peitz knows the chances of living up to her mother's record will be a tall order. Azeri won Horse of the Year after nailing the 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) and scored in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) three straight years, earning an Eclipse Award each season as champion older mare from 2002-04. She topped $4 million in earnings while going 17-for-24 over her career.

Since moving to the broodmare barns, Azeri's foals have fetched huge interest at auction, with her initial baby, a colt by A.P. Indy, becoming a record $7.7 million buy-back at the 2008 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Subsequently sold for $1.9 million as a Keeneland April two-year-old and named Take Control, the colt was a good-looking debut maiden winner for Bob Baffert in late 2009, but hasn't raced since.

Peitz helped the Lows purchase their filly for $800,000 at Keeneland September in 2009. But while many eagerly anticipate the results of Rachel's visit to fellow Horse of the Year Curlin, the history of those pinnacle couplings indicates expectations shouldn't be raised too high. There have been 10 foals where both the sire and dam were U.S. Horses of the Year. None ever came close to matching their parents' records or earnings. The combined earnings for these 10 foals is just $377,728, a small fraction of what their parents made.

Arienza is the product of a U.S. Horse of the Year and a Cartier Award winner, with Giant's Causeway the European champion in 2000 after finishing second in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) to American Horse of the Year Tiznow.

Many have visited the filly at the Peitz barn trying to gauge how she might stack up with her mom. Even Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who trained Azeri for the final eight races of her career, has asked about her.

"Mainly most people have asked about her size," Peitz said. "I actually don't remember her mom being all that big. Both are pretty fillies, but this one is just average-sized. Part of it has been the size of horses like Zenyatta recently. Once you see her, they all look small."

Arienza was nearly prepared to race at Arlington Park last summer but developed a chip in her left front knee that forced Peitz to take her out of training and point toward Oaklawn's season. That has helped tamp down expectations, but her trainer is allowing himself to get excited -- to a point.

"She's done everything right all along," he said. "Her last few workouts have started us thinking that she could be something better than just an average horse. We are starting to raise our sights a little higher, but then again, you remember she hasn't won anything yet."

With five workouts over the track, Peitz has his eye on the next edition of the condition book in search of a maiden race restricted to three-year-old fillies. He says he nearly entered her in a race this week, but he wanted one more test from the starting gate to lock in plans. That test is scheduled to come Saturday morning, weather permitting.

"I wasn't happy with how she broke in her gate workout," said Peitz, who is a tough coach to please considering the filly posted a bullet five-furlong breeze after that gate break in :58 4/5. "I took her back the other day just to pop out of there and gallop down the track, and she was much better. I could have gone in the race, but now I feel better about it. She's coming along great. Now we just need a race to fill."

Azeri, whose third foal is a juvenile filly named Wine Princess (Ghostzapper), was sold to Katsumi Yoshida for $2.25 million at Keeneland November in 2009. Following her export to Japan, she foaled a Distorted Humor filly last year, and according to the Paulick Report, is currently in foal to Zenno Rob Roy.


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