06/19/2003 12:00AM

Phipps field has Phipps class


ELMONT, N.Y. - Full of class.

Horrid weather is a factor in the limited number of fillies and mares lining up for Saturday's $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap. But the field is all quality, headed by such stars as Take Charge Lady, beaten just a head by Horse of the Year Azeri in the Apple Blossom; Sightseek, the Humana Distaff winner who has never finished worse than second in any race; and Smok'n Frolic, who has earned more than $1 million.

Ogden Phipps would have loved it. The late Jockey Club chairman, one of the greatest American breeders of the 20th century, Phipps is renowned for his role in producing such brilliant horses as Buckpasser and Easy Goer. But he gave himself away on his visits to Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., where he and his family have boarded their mares for many years.

"He spent more time with Numbered Account than any of the others," Seth Hancock of Claiborne recalled. "In later years he developed arthritis in his hands and it was difficult for him to straighten his fingers. But he'd do his best to scratch her forehead lightly as he talked to her in her stall and she seemed to enjoy it. He was very proud of another of his mares, Personal Ensign, who went through her entire career undefeated. She was a loner, however. She didn't show much warmth . . ."

Phipps' broodmare band rarely exceeded 18, Hancock noted, and many racing men were surprised that he produced so many good horses with so few mares. Hancock says Phipps was a keen student of pedigree, always had his matings list drawn up early, and would make occasional changes during the year based on his observations.

Phipps admired achievement and of those lining up for the race named in his honor would have felt very close to Sightseek, whose record is remarkable. A 4-year-old daughter of the Mr. Prospector stallion Distant View, Sightseek has run nine times, winning five, with four seconds.

"She is a very good filly," trainer Bobby Frankel said. "She has trained up to the race nicely, but the track is almost certain to be 'off' and she has never had 'off-track' experience. If she can handle the 'off' track, I give her a good chance to win."

Sightseek's dam, Viviana, by the Northern Dancer horse Nureyev, is also the dam of Tates Creek, another star of the Frankel stable. The winner of more than $1 million, she recently scored in the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders Cup at Hollywood Park.

"There is no substitute for class in the dam," Frankel said. "A few years ago, I got a filly from the Juddmonte Stable in Europe. Her name is Angel in My Heart, and she finished second in both the Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree and the Matriarch at Hollywood. They bred her to Kris S. and got a colt named Kris Kin who just won the Epsom Derby."