Bobby Frankel settled into his office following Sightseek's bravura farewell performance in the $735,000 Beldame Stakes (gr. I) Oct. 9 and was hit by a wave of relief. Gone were the butterflies and nervous cough. His agonizing day finally was over and he could now sing the praises of the mare that has been such a special part of his life for the past three years.
A short while earlier, he had stunned a small gathering of reporters when he began wiping away tears and becoming almost too choked up to speak. After so many winner's circle appearances and encounters with the media over the past several years, the normally reserved Frankel had been exposed. His barricade had come crumbling down right before everyone's eyes. "I can't help it; I worry about her," Frankel said. "She's going home safe. That's the main thing."
It seemed a curious statement regarding a 1-5 favorite who had never missed a beat in 20 career appearances, and who had just toyed with grade I winners Society Selection and Storm Flag Flying while racking up her seventh grade I victory.
But what no one realized was Frankel's worries were justified, as was his earlier recommendation to the Juddmonte Farms team to retire the daughter of Distant View
--Viviana, by Nureyev, after the Beldame. He knew as early as June that the 5-year-old mare's days were numbered after a filling was discovered in her left front ankle.
As nervous as Frankel was before the Beldame, he was even more apprehensive before the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) June 19. "I was really a nervous wreck that day," Frankel said. "She hadn't taken a bad step, and all my riders said she felt fine, but you still worry. All I kept saying was, 'Please just make it through this race.' "
After she won easily, defeating Storm Flag Flying and Azeri, Frankel and his crew continued working on Sightseek's ankle, icing it and keeping a close eye on it. Every morning brought with it the anxiety of checking the ankle for any further filling. But Sightseek continued to train well and remained on course for the Beldame.
Two more races came and went--a second-place finish to Azeri in the Go for Wand Handicap (gr. I) and an 11 1/4-length romp in the Ruffian Handicap (gr. I). Frankel's only regret in the Go for Wand was that Sightseek didn't tackle Azeri earlier, after the former Horse of the Year was allowed to get away with a :47.75 half.
As the Beldame neared, Sightseek's ankle continued to fill. But Frankel still kept it quiet, not wanting anyone to think he was making excuses.
"I was between a rock and a hard place," he said. "If I said something, it would have been like, 'Oh, he's full of (it).' If it was just a little filling it wouldn't have bothered me. But it kept getting bigger, and you know the old saying, where there's smoke there's fire. I mean, I grilled these guys every day. I'd ask them, 'Are you sure she's OK?' And they assured me she was. If any of my boys had had told me she felt funny, even a little bit, that would have been the end of it. I would have retired her on the spot. But everybody that got on her said they couldn't feel a thing."
Frankel felt secure pointing for the Beldame over a track Sightseek loved, but knew the risk of running at Lone Star Park would be too great. "We don't want to push our luck," he said. "If I took her out there and she broke down in front of 50-million people I wouldn't have forgiven myself. That's why I made the announcement early that she wouldn't be running. God forbid something happened to her. I'd have to quit training."
So, when Sightseek won the Beldame by 2 3/4 lengths after being virtually eased by Javier Castellano in the final sixteenth, Frankel finally was able to relax and let out his emotions. "It was a release," he said. "It was pent up inside me all day."
When Frankel arrived back at his barn, he called Juddmonte farm manager Garrett O'Rourke from his car. "The ankle's filled up pretty good," he told him. "The thought that something chould happen to her. You go to the well once too often, you know what I mean?"
O'Rourke agreed. "Right, she's so special," he said. "You can't take risks with her, especially a filly that tries so hard for you. She's as honest as the day is long. She's the kind of filly you're lucky to have and you have to take care of them. She's done us proud."
That's all Frankel needed to hear. "So, Wednesday you can have her. She's all yours. I don't want to have to make excuses that she has a bad ankle and that's why she's not running. Let them think what they want. All I know is, if she broke down..." He didn't have to finish the thought. They both shared the same feeling. All O'Rourke had to say after that was, "Well, we'll take good care of her."
The Beldame was pretty much over after Sightseek cruised to the front and was allowed to set an opening quarter of :24.82. Storm Flag Flying, coming off a victory over Azeri in the Personal Ensign Handicap (gr. I), tried to run with her, but eased back, about a length off the pace. Society Selection was right behind in third as they coasted through a half in :48.40 and three-quarters in 1:12.86.
Nearing the quarter pole, jockey John Velazquez was already pumping hard on Storm Flag Flying, but still was unable to gain on Sightseek, as a motionless Castellano still had her under wraps. Once he smooched to her, Sightseek took off, as she's done so often, and was gone in a flash. She opened a six-length advantage at the eighth pole, then was throttled down and was merely cantering under the wire. She completed the nine furlongs in 1:49.60, with Society Selection, coming off victories in the grade I Test and Alabama Stakes, closing well to finish second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Storm Flag Flying in the field of five. It was Sightseek's sixth victory at Belmont in as many starts, five of them in grade I stakes.
"Just a workout, huh?" a beaming Frankel said to Castellano as he dismounted. Frankel then received congratulations from Society Selection's trainer Allen Jerkens, who had also chased Sightseek on several occasions with Passing Shot. "Thank you," Frankel said. "Well, at least you won't have to run against her anymore."
Frankel's wife, Bonita, had bittersweet feelings after the race. "I can't believe we're not going to see her anymore," she said. "It's really going to sink in when she leaves."
Back at the barn, Bonita was dismayed to find out that there was only one carrot left. "Guess who's getting it?" she asked. But before Sightseek returned from the test barn, Bonita drove to the market across the street and bought a bag of carrots. This was no time to skimp on the rewards.
Frankel couldn't help but think back to 2002 when Sighsteek first arrived at his barn and he'd show her off to everyone. "She was such a big monster of a filly with these big forearms and shoulders," he recalled. "But she's the sweetest thing. You can go right up and nuzzle with her and she doesn't get upset over anything.
"She's the best filly I've ever trained... definitely on the dirt. I know Azeri is the darling of everybody, but this is a great filly, too. And it would be the biggest honor if she could get in the Hall of Fame one day. Horses like this, they never let you down. Problems, ankles, feet, they never let you down. That's why I got so emotional today. Now, it's all over and she's going out on top. Mission accomplished." Time for Accolades
Todd Pletcher owes Barry Eisaman a meal. Earlier this year, Eisaman, who breaks horses for Pletcher's client, John Fort, consigned a colt by Yes It's True
, out of theSeptieme Ciel mare Proud Ciel, to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March 2-year-olds-in-training sale. He had bought the colt as a yearling at OBS for $47,000 and was no doubt thrilled with the $450,000 bid he received from Padua Stables, which had raced Yes It's True.
"I had looked at the horse a couple of times," Pletcher said. "And when Padua bought him, Barry called me and said, 'Listen, I don't know if you normally solicit horses or not, but this is a really good horse.' So, based on that, I called (Padua) and said, 'I don't know what you guys are going to do with that colt, but put my name in the hat.' "
Pletcher's name was picked out of the hat, and seven months later, he has himself an undefeated winner of the Champagne Stakes (gr. I). Proud Accolade has now won all three of his starts, and his half-length victory over previously unbeaten Afleet Alex on Oct. 9 establishes him as one of the favorites for the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). As Pletcher said, "I owe Barry a debt of gratitude."
Bred in Florida by Marion Montanari, Proud Accolade had won his first two starts by a total of 13 lengths. Stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles, he settled in third under Velazquez, wore down the Nick Zito-trained Sun King, then, with a swift final sixteenth in :06.21, was able to hold off the late charge of 6-5 favorite Afleet Alex. His time of 1:42.30 was over a full second faster than the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) the race before. Sun King, who was trying to give Zito his fifth Champagne victory in his last five attempts, ran on gamely to finish third, 11 3/4 lengths ahead of fourth-place finisher Silver Train.
"This one was very special for us," said Padua owner Satish Sanan. "This colt is so calm and relaxed, and he does whatever you tell him. There are very few horses like that. Everybody talks about him not getting a distance, but the first time Todd ran him he said this is a two-turn horse."
"The one thing that's been impressive about him from day one is that he's always had a terrific mind," Pletcher said. "Many times, you get horses out of the 2-year-olds-in-training sale that are very fast at the sales and they want to be fast all the time. But he's one of those colts who's very cooperative and he gives it to you when you ask for it." Darley's Darling
Who said the Maktoum family horses only look good in Godolphin blue? Last year, when Sheikh Mohammed's Ruler's Court, sporting his owner's maroon and white Darley Stable silks, romped by 14 lengths in the Norfolk Stakes (gr. II) for trainer Eoin Harty, he was immediately whisked away to join the elite Godolphin gang and hasn't been heard from since.
The question now is, will Sheikh Mohammed take his Frizette Stakes winner Balletto away from trainer Tom Albertrani or let her try for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I)? Not even Albertrani knows.
"The intention was to run here, then go to the Breeders' Cup, but things change," he said shortly after saddling his first official grade I winner. Previously, all the Godolphin grade I winners Albertrani has saddled ran in the name of Godolphin's trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
Balletto, who was bred by Darley in the United Arab Emirates, won her first two starts before finishing a fast-closing second to Sense of Style in the Matron Stakes (gr. I). Sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the Frizette under Corey Nakatani, the daughter of Timber Country, out of Destiny Dance, by Nijinsky II, rallied along the rail, as she had in the Matron, to defeat the Pletcher-trained Ready's Gal by three-quarters of length in 1:43.52 for the 1 1/16 miles. Sis City, who set the pace, held on gamely for third, despite drifting all over the track.
"Now that she's won, they might decide not to run her; you don't know," Albertrani said. "She breaks slow all the time and you don't like to see her get down in there and running up behind tiring horses. But, luckily, today a big gap opened up. Once she switches to her right lead, she takes off."