01/23/2004 12:00AM

Can Sightseek snap streak?

Sunday's Grade 1 Santa Monica is Sightseek's first start since her fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, also at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - It is tempting to exaggerate the importance of the first Grade 1 of the year - the Santa Monica Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita. Yet there is a sense of urgency for Santa Monica favorite Sightseek, who is 0 for 4 at Santa Anita and 8 for 9 everywhere else.

"Yeah, it's a concern," trainer Bobby Frankel said regarding her record at Santa Anita. "If she doesn't win this race, I'll probably never run her at Santa Anita again."

Frankel is confident that Sightseek will need no alibi in the seven-furlong Santa Monica. "She's going into this race better than she went into those [Santa Anita] races last year, or the Breeders' Cup."

Frankel's confidence hardly makes Sightseek a cinch, because she faces at least two formidable rivals. They are Island Fashion, runaway winner of the Grade 1 La Brea one month ago, and Got Koko, a multiple graded stakes winner who has trained super for her comeback.

Grade 2 winner Star Parade entered but is not expected to run. Princess V. entered as a backup to a Sunshine Millions race on Saturday. The Santa Monica longshots are Buffythecenterfold and Sparkling Ava.

are racing for the first time since the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 25. Sightseek bled and finished fourth as the 3-5 Distaff favorite; Got Koko raced wide behind the slow pace and finished third, beaten seven lengths. The three-month layoff is not a concern for either 5-year-old mare; expectations from both camps are for a top performance first start back.

"This ain't no prep race," said Bruce Headley, Got Koko's trainer. "I want to win."

Got Koko rallied to win the seven-furlong La Brea last year following a similar three-month layoff, but the dynamics of that fast-pace race would only be duplicated Sunday if outsider Princess V. were to scratch from an easier race Saturday to run in the Santa Monica. Either way, Headley said, Got Koko is prepared.

"I'm training her to be fresh - I'm training her to be close [to the lead]," Headley said.

Got Koko returns Sunday with a series of sharp workouts, and she is aiming for a three-race campaign at the winter meet. A winner of seven races and $930,946 from 14 starts, Got Koko will stretch out to two turns Feb. 16 in the Grade 1 Santa Maria, followed by the March 14 Santa Margarita. The long-term goal is the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Even if Sightseek wins Sunday, Frankel does not expect to race her again until May at Churchill Downs. Sightseek will follow a campaign similar to last year's, racing mostly on the East Coast leading to the BC Distaff.

Most of Sightseek's speed figures are higher than Got Koko's; Sightseek also possesses more tactical speed. She'll need to use it, because without Princess V., Island Fashion could find herself on an easy lead.

Frankel needs no reminder. "I don't think Jerry Bailey will leave [Island Fashion] alone too long," he said. Sightseek has won 8 of 13 and more than $1.4 million.

The pace scenario may favor Island Fashion, who took advantage of slow half-mile (45.51 seconds) in the La Brea on Dec. 27 to win by six lengths. The pace was a half-second slower than par for a seven-furlong stakes at Santa Anita. Island Fashion was fortunate, though the win was her second Grade 1 and fourth stakes overall - she got lucky because she is good.

Trainer Marcelo Polanco said Island Fashion came out of the race in top form, and he skipped the $150,000 El Encino around two turns last weekend to run for more money in the $250,000 Santa Monica.

Island Fashion could find herself loose on the lead again, but Polanco said "she can lay anywhere." He added that the best-case scenario would be if "nobody fights her on the lead, and she can take it easy." Kent Desormeaux rides.

The field

Santa Monica Handicap

Purse: $250,000; 7 furlongs; Grade 1

1BuffythecenterfoldM. Garcia11415-1
2SightseekJ. Bailey1221-1
3Star ParadeV. Espinoza11410-1
4Sparkling AvaF. Martinez10930-1
5Island FashionK. Desormeaux1202-1
6Princess V.M. Smith11230-1
7Got KokoA. Solis1195-2

* Odds by Michael Hammersly