Sightseek, impresseive in Ogden Phipps Handicap victory.

Sightseek, impresseive in Ogden Phipps Handicap victory.

NYRA/Adam Coglianese

Sightseek Dominates Phipps 'Cap; Azeri Last

Juddmonte Farms' Sightseek turned in a brilliant performance Saturday in winning the $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park. Champion Azeri faded to finish last by 11 3/4 lengths in her third consecutive defeat.

Ridden confidently by Jerry Bailey, the daughter of Distant View shook loose from Azeri on the final turn and opened up an insurmountable lead in the stretch. She cruised under the wire under wraps comfortably in front of mildly closing Storm Flag Flying in a time of 1:41 2/5 for the 1 1/8-mile event on a fast Belmont strip. Passing Shot finished third. The winning distance was 3 1/4 lengths.

A multiple grade I winner, the Bobby Frankel-trained 5-year-old chestnut mare Sightseek atoned for a fourth-place finish in the Churchill Downs slop in the Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in her last start as a 2-5 favorite April 30. Sightseek won her fourth race in as many tries at Belmont Park.

"I thought Azeri would get the easy lead, but (Sightseek) hooked her all the way," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "She loves this racetrack. Last year she did the same thing (Bailey) just put her up there right off the leader."

The 6-year-old Azeri turned in her second poor performance since trainer D. Wayne Lukas switched riders to Pat Day from Mike Smith, with whom she was Horse of the Year in 2002 and the Eclipse winner as top older filly or mare the past two years. She carried 123 pounds, spotting Sightseek three pounds, and was sent off as the 4-5 favorite.

Day hustled Azeri to the lead from her inside post in the field of four and she clicked off sharp opening fractions of :23 1/5, :45 3/5 and 1:10. Sightseek was running easily on her outside all the way and increased the pressure on Azeri midway on the far turn. Sightseek kicked away as Azeri fell back and she led by about six lengths in mid-stretch after completing a mile in 1:34 3/5.

"Azeri threw in the towel leaving the three-eighths pole and left me on the lead," Bailey said.

"I didn't know (Sightseek) had Azeri until just before the quarter-pole," Frankel said. "Azeri obviously didn't run her race. It's a great win. (Sightseek's) a great filly. If they had the Breeders' Cup here, she'd be 1-to-100."

Storm Flag Flying, owned by Ogden Mills Phipps, was third on the outside through the early fractions and rallied in the stretch under John Velazquez, making some headway down the lane but offering no threat to the winner. Passing Shot, Richard Migliore aboard, trailed through the early going, finishing 6 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up.

Sightseek notched her second win of the year after taking the Rampart Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park on March 14. She won last year's Phipps in similar fashion by five lengths over Take Charge Lady. Overall, she has a 10-4-0 record in 17 starts with earnings of $1,765,216. The Kentucky homebred was produced by the Nureyev mare Viviana.

She went off as the 2-1 second choice, paying $6.70 and $4.40. Storm Flag Flying returned $4.10. The $2 exacta was $18.60.

Azeri finished eighth against males in the Metropolitan (gr. I) May 31 at Belmont in her previous start.

"I'm not so sure she cares for this racetrack," said Lukas. "She's run twice here and she's run two of her sub-par races here. I'm glad we don't have another one. Physically, she looks fine. We'll research it out and come up with something. Obviously that's not the mare we expected. Pat [Day] said he thought she struggled with it, too. He said she didn't seem comfortable and had her ears back instead of forward, like she normally does. Those are all tell-tale signs."

Added Day: "Even when she cleared the horses a little bit she never pricked her ears and acted happy. When Jerry (Bailey) came to her at the half-mile pole and put a little pressure on her she pinned her ears and just resented it."

Azeri fell short of becoming the top earning mare in North American history. She came into the race needing $135,722 to take the top spot from Spain. Her fourth-place finish was worth just $15,000 for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust. She is now 15-3-0 from 20 starts with earnings of $3,419,820. Spain, who was also trained by D. Wayne Lukas, finished her career as the top money-earning mare in North America with $3,540,542.

Storm Flag Flying, a notoriously excitable filly, reared up in the saddling stall a few times and required one of her hind shoes to be reset. She delayed the horses in the paddock for several minutes, balked when Velazquez got a leg up, took the track ahead of the rest of the field and broke post parade to warm up alone. Not coincidentally, the wagering public dropped her from second to third favorite behind Sightseek in the final minutes before post time.

"It was a good effort and I am very proud of her," Velazquez said. "Considering all of the things that happened to her in the paddock, she overcame everything and ran good."

(Chart, Equibase)