By Alan Carasso
The first four home from the Jan. 26 GIII Houston Ladies' Classic square off yet again in Saturday's GII Azeri S. at Oaklawn Park, and, having drawn widest of the sextet in Texas last time, Street Band (Istan) gets pole position here as she looks to make amends.
Third in last year's GI Alabama S. over a 10-furlong trip that potentially stretched her stamina, the chestnut got a perfect set-up in the GI Cotillion S. and blew past 'TDN Rising Star' Guarana (Ghostzapper) to score by 2 1/4 lengths. Eighth as a 10-1 shot in the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff, she loomed boldly at the quarter-pole at Houston last time and hung slightly to be a close third. That effort should have her tighter for this and she has trained brilliantly since.
Last year's GI Kentucky Oaks victress, the admirably consistent Serengeti Empress (Alternation), made the running in the Lone Star state and showed her trademark tenacity to go down by just a half-length. She enjoyed a reasonably soft time of things on that occasion, but could take some pace pressure here from longshot Awe Emma (War Front).
Lady Apple (Curlin) sat an ideal inside trip in the Houston Ladies' Classic just behind the speed and when Serengeti Empress floated a bit wide into the lane, Ricardo Santana, Jr. took full advantage, shot through at the fence and Lady Apple was good enough to get the job done by a half-length.
Mylady Curlin (Curlin) posted a record of 6-2-2 from 10 runs last season, highlighted by a 2 1/4-length tally in the GII Falls City H. at Churchill Nov. 28. She, too, was the beneficiary of a good trip in Houston last time and was in with every chance a furlong from home before settling for fourth, beaten a length.