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Azeri, Best Pal selected to horse racing Hall of Fame

Azeri and Best Pal, two horses who spent time stabled at the San Luis Rey Downs Thoroughbred Training Center, were selected for horse racing’s Hall of Fame.

The National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony August 13 in Saratoga Springs will also include horses Point Given and Harry Bassett, jockeys Randy Romero and Don Pierce, and trainer Buster Millerick.

“Isn’t that awesome?” said former trainer Alex Hassinger, who was an assistant to Laura de Seroux when de Seroux trained Azeri. “She was the real deal, that filly.”

“I’m very pleased for Best Pal’s induction into the Hall of Fame for my parents,” said Larry Mabee, who inherited Golden Eagle Farm. “We knew sooner or later that he would make it into the Hall of Fame.”

Golden Eagle Farm sends most of their horses to San Luis Rey Downs for early training. Best Pal was subsequently trained by Ian Jory, Gary Jones, and Richard Mandella during his racing career which spanned from May 1990 to January 1996. In his 47 starts Best Pal won 18 races and finished second 11 times, and his $5,668,245 in career earnings is still the record for a California-bred horse. Seventeen of Best Pal’s wins were in stakes races, including six Grade I stakes.

“Had a lot of fun with him for a long time,” Mabee said.

As a three-year-old in 1991 he won the initial Pacific Classic at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. “That was an exciting day for everyone involved,” Mabee said.

Best Pal, who was foaled in February 1988, died in November 1998 after a heart attack on the Golden Eagle Farm workout track.

“The morning that he died he was doing what he liked to do,” Mabee said. “Can’t get much better than that if you’re going to go.”

Best Pal is buried at Golden Eagle Farm. John Mabee passed away in April 2002 and Betty Mabee passed away in February 2010. Larry Mabee plans to represent his parents at the induction ceremony.

Azeri’s 24 starts produced 17 wins and four second-place finishes. “Azeri was just a great filly who loved to run, and she did it very effectively,” Hassinger said. “She was a pleasure to be around and a pleasure to watch.”

The filly foaled in May 1998 was bred by Allen Paulson in Kentucky. Paulson died in July 2000 and his son, J. Michael Paulson, managed the Paulson family trust when Azeri raced from 2001 to 2004. She won 11 consecutive races in 2002 and 2003, including the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

“It was fun just to watch her every day,” Hassinger said. “As a horseman you don’t get that chance very often.”

In 2002 she won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year, making her the third filly or mare to win the overall Horse of the Year award. “Pretty impressive,” Hassinger said. (One of her predecessors, a female Horse of the Year, was the San Luis Rey Downs horse Lady’s Secret, who won the award in 1986.)

Azeri was also the Eclipse Award winner for Older Filly or Mare in 2002, 2003, and 2004. After her final 2003 race she was transferred from de Seroux to D. Wayne Lukas. Her $4,079,820 in career earnings was a record for fillies and mares until Zenyatta

broke that mark.

“She was a true champion, very consistent both in morning workouts and obviously in the afternoon,” Hassinger said. “I appreciated being around her because she was the type of horse who gave you everything.”

Azeri was sent to Japan following a November 2009 Keeneland sale. On December 30, 2009, her first foal, Taking Control, won his first start. Taking Control was sired by A.P. Indy, another former San Luis Rey Downs horse.

The 14-member Hall of Fame Nominating Committee narrowed 76 candidates in the contemporary category to 10 finalists before sending the choice to the 182 voters who selected Azeri, Best Pal, Point Given, and Romero. The Hall of Fame’s 12-member Historic Review Committee selected Harry Bassett, Pierce, and Millerick.

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