Champion Ce Ce stretches out and wins the Azeri in a thriller

Bo Hirsch’s 2021 champion female sprinter Ce Ce returned to Oaklawn Park for the first time since her 2020 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) victory and got the same result – an impressive win against top tier older fillies and mares in the Grade 2, $350,000 Azeri Stakes

Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Ce Ce was fourth early as defending Azeri winner and even-money favorite Shedaresthedevil took command at the break and proceeded to set fractions of 23.44 and 47.53 second for the first half mile, while being tracked closely by longshot Golden Curl.

Ce Ce began to creep closer leaving the backstretch, was three wide entering the stretch and shook clear late for a three-quarters of a length victory over the fast closing Pauline’s Pearl, who had a troubled trip. Shedaresthedevil hero on for third.

Trained by Michael McCarthy, Ce Ce completed the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:43.55 over a fast track. It was the fastest time at the distance at the current Oaklawn meet.

“I actually had a good trip,” Espinoza said. “I was able to get clear at the break so I could sit behind the frontrunners. I wanted to wait a little longer, but she was doing it so easy, I just moved on with her. She could hear all the noise from the crowd and kind of put the brakes on me, but luckily the other two horses (Pauline’s Pearl and Shedaresthedevil) were on either side of me and when she saw them, she moved forward. It’s like she runs so easy, she gets a little bit bored and does some silly things, but it all worked out.”

McCarthy said Ce Ce “showed what a champion she is today.

“Obviously, coming to the top of the stretch, it looked like she was going to go ahead and put a little daylight between herself and everybody else,” McCarthy said. “Coming to the sixteenth pole, I saw her ears go up and wasn’t sure if she was getting tired or what. When those two other fillies came to her, she dug back in and showed what a champion she is today.”

Ce Ce, who ended her championship season with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) last November, improved her overall record to 9-2-3 from 18 starts and has now earned $2,003,100.

The 6-year-old daughter of Elusive Quality returned $5.40 as the 8-5 second choice in the field of eight.

She’s All Wolfe, Ava’s Grace, Golden Curl and Lady Mystify completed the order of finish. Lavender was scratched.

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