Hot and Sultry to route in Azeri

March 9, 2023

Hot and Sultry beats I’m the Boss of Me to the wire by half a length in the American Beauty Jan. 21. (Coady Photography)

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Lightly raced Hot and Sultry will try to make the grade when she makes her two-turn debut in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn for trainer Norm Casse and prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong.

The Azeri is the final major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15. Both races are 1 1/16 miles. 

“From Day 1, she seemed to me like she was a route horse,” Casse said Wednesday afternoon. “We picked a pretty salty spot to try it, but it’s time to find out.”

Hot and Sultry, a 4-year-old daughter of Speightster, is already a stakes winner, claiming the $150,000 American Beauty for older fillies and mares Jan. 21 at Oaklawn in her last start. But the American Beauty, Hot and Sultry’s fifth career start, was 6 furlongs. In the Azeri, Hot and Sultry will be stretching out to face, among others, millionaire Grade 1 winner Secret Oath for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, millionaire Grade 1 winner Clairiere for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and Grade 2 winner Interstatedaydream for trainer Brad Cox. All three horses are proven around two turns, but coming off lengthy layoffs.

“I feel like we have a fitness edge, for sure, and I think tactically we kind of have an edge as well,” Casse said. “The two big favorites (Clairiere and Secret Oath) are come from behind horses. Brad’s filly will be forwardly placed, so I feel like we’ll be sitting in between those (three). So, if’s she able to route as well as she does sprinting, then we’re going to have a perfect opportunity to pick up a big piece of this race.”

A $475,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, Hot and Sultry was a flashy maiden special weight winner last season at Oaklawn and returned to finish second behind Grade 3 winner Yuugiri in an allowance sprint Dec. 30 in Hot Springs. 

The Dec. 30 race marked Hot and Sultry’s first since July 1 – an entry-level allowance victory in a one-turn mile at Churchill Downs – and her first for Casse, who began training for the Lieblongs last year. Hot and Sultry had previously been with Asmussen.

“When I got down here, Alex and I discussed it and felt like with her, the whole meet was going to be based on the fact, with her in particular, try to get her to the Apple Blossom, if she took us there,” Casse said. “So, this would be the first big step.”

Hot and Sultry showed a new dimension in the American Beauty, coming from off the pace to beat I’m the Boss of Me by a half-length after breaking a step slow under David Cabrera. Hot and Sultry had led at every point of call in her previous two victories, including the 6-furlong maiden special weight score in January 2022 at Oaklawn.

Hot and Sultry has logged three workouts since the American Beauty. The last two (Feb. 27 and March 5) were 5-furlong bullets.

“Her last two works, they look fast, but they were done pretty effortlessly,” Casse said. “She seems be doing extremely well right now.”

Hot and Sultry (20-1 on the morning line for the Azeri) has won 3 of 5 starts overall and earned $256,395. 

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