09/24/2004 12:00AM

Pace will make race in BC Classic


PHOENIX - It may be early to discuss the Breeders' Cup Classic, but even five weeks beforehand it seems clear the result of the race will be a function of pace.

In 1991, Black Tie Affair got away with murder up front and kept going. This year the pace scenario might be as crucial, but for the opposite reason.

Roses in May is one fast horse. So is Saint Liam. And Ghostzapper just pressed Saint Liam through sizzling splits, so we know he's fast, too. And what if trainer Bobby Frankel also sends the speedy Peace Rules? He would be up there early. And crack 3-year-old Love of Money has shown he can sizzle, as well.

So envisioning a repeat of a Black Tie Affair-like race is hard to come by. Even if, say, Roses in May proves quickest early, it's doubtful he can kick clear on the far turn. Certainly, by that point a horse like Ghostzapper or Peace Rules would get involved in the pace. Saint Liam showed in the Woodward he's capable of major speed.

There are races every day at tracks across the country that are seemingly filled with speed, then one or two horses break slowly and are taken out of their game, another isn't as quick and gives up, and the next thing you know they haven't gone a half-mile and someone has scooted clear.

But usually we're talking about lesser animals. Breeders' Cup runners are likely to run their race. Considering the way the BC Classic seems to set up, it could well be a closer who benefits the most. So pay attention to Pleasantly Perfect, Perfect Drift, Dynever, and Birdstone.

Europeans' edge: Real or not?

We've grown accustomed to the Europeans' superiority in the BC turf races the past few years. It's taken some time, but the Europeans seem to have figured out how to ship and how to plan a campaign at home leading up to the Breeders' Cup. It appears no different this year - that the Mile, Filly and Mare Turf, and Turf will have heavy European presence.

But let's not get carried away. The turns at Lone Star Park are not the big, sweeping turns at Belmont. And this won't be the thick, lush turf of Arlington. I don't think the Europeans will be significantly hurt by this year's site, but they're not going to be helped, either.

Remember that the Europeans did not dominate the major turf racing scene at Arlington last month. Yes, Euros Crimson Palace and Necklace were first and third in the Beverly D., but American Riskaverse was a very good second. Yes, Euros Powerscourt and Magistretti crossed the wire first and third in the Million, but it was American Kicken Kris who ran second, and who was moved up to first via a disqualification. There were some promising Euros entered in the Secretariat, but it was the dazzling American Kitten's Joy who blew away the rest of the field.

The Europeans hold a strong hand coming into this year's turf races, but it's not the time for the Americans to fold, particularly at a site that might eliminate some of that supposed gap in talent.

Questioning Sightseek's favorite site

Sightseek is now 5 for 5 at Belmont after her easy Grade 1 Ruffian win there last week, and many believe her great record there is because the big, sweeping turns suit her huge stride - that she is, in a way, the female parallel of Easy Goer.

But I don't buy that reasoning. There is a reason that she does so well at Belmont: she is enormously gifted. Another reason is that she beat moderate competition in several of her Belmont races. Her immediate victims were Clear Destiny, Take Charge Lady, She's Got the Beat, Bird Town, and Pocus Hocus. Only Take Charge Lady and Bird Town could really be considered Grade 1 females, and by the time Take Charge Lady met Sightseek she probably had lost a step or two. Bird Town got her two Grade 1 wins against 3-year-olds only. To me, they could have run those five races at Northampton Fair and Sightseek would have won.

Sightseek certainly didn't mind the turns at Churchill Downs when she won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff a year and a half ago. While she's a disappointing 0 for 5 at Santa Anita, note that her losses produced Beyer Speed Figures of 101, 105, and 108. If that's not liking a track, well, then I'm confused.

Certainly, there's something about Belmont that Sightseek adores. Maybe it's the surface. Maybe it's the air. But I don't believe it's that she needs a big race track to accommodate her body and stride. And if that is the case, as long as she's feeling good going into the BC Distaff, she has the right to be very scary.