02/27/2008 12:00AM

Sightseeing returns on turf

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It was surprising enough to learn that Sightseeing, among the top 3-year-olds in the country last season, was still eligible for a second-level allowance condition. It came as even a bigger shock when trainer Shug McGaughey opted to bring the 2007 Wood Memorial runner-up back from a five-month layoff on the grass in Friday's $44,500 main event at Gulfstream Park.

Sightseeing has not started since finishing fifth in an unlucky start in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap on Sept. 22. That outing ended a 3-year-old campaign for Sightseeing that included a win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and third-place finishes in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Dwyer stakes along with his near miss behind Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Wood. Sighteeing also finished a well-beaten fourth in the Travers.

"He was in and out as a 3-year-old," McGaughey said. "I was very disappointed in his race in the Travers, and after he didn't run any good in the Brooklyn, I just decided to stop on him."

McGaughey said launching Sightseeing's 4-year-old campaign on grass was a combination of timing, distance, and breeding. Friday's feature is carded at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

"I really didn't want to run him a mile and one-eighth off the layoff because I was afraid it might be too grueling a race," McGaughey explained. "He's by Pulpit, and with his running style, I wanted to see how he'd handle the turf anyway. Hopefully, he'll get an easy, productive start out of this, and then we'll figure out where to go from there. He's not necessarily going to stay on grass."

Sightseeing will face a field loaded with proven turf runners led by veterans like Pass Play and Touched by Madness. The race will also mark the grass debut of the lightly raced but promising Kapazunder.

Pass Play has won 15 races, 11 on grass, during his career. Now 7, Pass Play has proven a popular item at the claim box thus far this meet, having been haltered out of similar optional claiming and allowance races for $62,500 in each of his first two starts this winter. Trainer Tino Attard was the last to acquire Pass Play, who will break from the rail.

Touched by Madness, second in a pair of Grade 3 races last summer, gets some class relief by dropping in under a $62,500 tag for the first time. Touched by Madness is coming off a third-place finish against slightly higher-priced optional claiming and allowance competition 18 days earlier.