Add Bobby Frankel to the list of skeptics who doubt Azeri belongs in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. The only way she could beat the boys, Frankel said, is if "the gates don't open for the rest of the horses."
Frankel joined others in questioning why trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Michael Paulson entered the champion mare in the Classic rather than the Distaff, where Azeri would have been the probable favorite and a likely winner.
"She's got no chance," Frankel said Thursday outside his barn at Lone Star Park. "She won't be a factor. She won't hit the board."
Frankel offered a spirited defense of his filly Sightseek, who beat Azeri in the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont in June before Azeri turned the tables in the Go For Wand Handicap at Saratoga in August. Sightseek isn't running in any of the eight Breeders' Cup races Saturday.
"If my filly gets beat once, it's against her," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "Azeri has gotten beat a few times. She's not better than Sightseek. But Azeri is the darling of America, she and Funny Cide."
Frankel said Sightseek could have beaten Azeri at Saratoga if jockey Jerry Bailey had capitalized on Sightseek's quick start by going to the lead. Instead, he throttled her back, and Azeri went on to beat Sightseek by 3 1/4 lengths.
"In my heart, she's my darling," Frankel said of Sightseek. "I got to fight for my cause."
Paulson defended his decision to pit Azeri against 12 mares in the Classic, including defending champion Pleasantly Perfect, Ghostzapper (trained by Frankel), last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and Roses in May.
"She's already beaten all the fillies and mares," he said, referring to Azeri's 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff victory. "In any sport, you always try to scale the next mountain. All those naysayers out there who say she doesn't have a chance don't know my mare."
Azeri has won 17 of 23 career starts, and more than $3.9 million. She's won three of seven races this year since Paulson fired Laura de Seroux and installed Lukas as trainer.
"They can take all the shots at me they want, but they can't really take a shot at her record," Paulson said.
Heroic jockey honored
GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas -- When an explosion shattered the summer night, John Woodley ran outside in sneakers and shorts and saw his neighbor's mobile home engulfed in flames.
He heard a mother scream for her children.
Woodley, a jockey who rides in southern Illinois, crawled through a window and into flames to rescue a 3-year-old boy and his 15-month-old brother, who later died.
His bravery earned him this year's White Horse Award, a prize given by the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America to a racing industry worker who acted exceptionally on behalf of people or horses.
"All I could think of were my own children," said Woodley, who had celebrated his eldest daughter's birthday earlier in the day.
He received the $5,000 prize and horse statue at a luncheon at Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie, site of this week's Breeders' Cup. "Put yourself in that position. You would do the same."
Other White Horse nominees received $1,000 prizes. They include Susan Wood of the Woodbine Racecourse near Toronto, who helped control a horse when a harness race driver's reins broke.