10/10/2004 11:00PM

Sightseek can't catch Azeri

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Heartwarming as her Beldame win was, Sightseek (above) would have had to defeat Azeri in the BC Distaff for a shot at the divisional title.

NEW YORK - Many fans of Sightseek are unhappy with the decision to retire her after yet another overwhelming victory at Belmont in Saturday's Beldame Stakes. By saying no to one more race, by declining to chase Azeri to Lone Star Park and taking her on in the Breeders' Cup, the connections of Sightseek are essentially conceding the divisional Eclipse Award to Azeri.

Of course, even if Sightseek were to go on to the Distaff, she may very well be chasing a ghost. Azeri's easy win in Sunday's Overbrook Spinster Stakes at Keeneland means she probably clinched the title, even in the face of all Sightseek has accomplished. Azeri is now playing with house money, and whether you agree with it or not, she may have nothing to lose by eschewing the Distaff and going after males in the Breeders' Cup Classic. What really bothers Sightseek fans is that she is going to own the same dubious distinction as two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Lure - being unquestionably good enough to win a championship, but going home without one.

Despite the point made following the Beldame by Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Sightseek - that his mare beat Azeri by 11 3/4 lengths in the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont in June, and Azeri beat Sightseek by only 1 3/4 lengths in the Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga in August - it is now inconceivable to think Sightseek has any case to unseat Azeri as divisional champion. Given Azeri's performances before and after the Phipps, it was obvious that the real Azeri was a no-show over a Belmont track she couldn't handle. The race in which both mares brought it to the table was the Go for Wand, and in that one, Sightseek moved to Azeri in the stretch like she was going to blast right on by, and Azeri beat her back. You still can't make believe the Phipps never happened, and it takes more than a split of two decisions to take down a reigning champ like Azeri. Sightseek needed to face Azeri again, and she needed to beat her.

Yet, even those who were the most disappointed to see Sightseek leave before one final crack at Azeri had to be touched by Frankel's tears following the Beldame. Frankel has accomplished almost all anyone can in this game. He has trained six champions, he has won the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer the last four years - and five times overall - and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame nine years ago. He has trained countless number of horses and is not known to wear his heart on his sleeve. So, when Frankel was so emotional after Sightseek's farewell in the Beldame, it could be taken as evidence of how much Sightseek really meant to him and how grateful he is to see her go home in one piece. It's almost as if that was a major concern for Frankel. Maybe there's something there that the public doesn't know about. It is, after all, the terrific performers like Sightseek, the ones who try so hard all the time, who are the most susceptible to physical ailments. If that is the case, then the decision not to push it with Sightseek becomes more understandable.

There were many other major stakes over the weekend. Here are thoughts on some of them:

Phoenix Breeders' Cup: Clock Stopper ran another fine race to be beaten a length for it all Friday despite meaningful traffic trouble in the stretch and going against the naturally speed-favoring surface at Keeneland. But, a horse who comes from downtown is going to need a good bit of luck in the Breeders' Cup Sprint considering the short stretch at Lone Star.

Darley Alcibiades: Sense of Style's failure at 3-5 wasn't as bad as it may look on paper because she had a tough trip. Still, you would have liked her to do better than finish behind four opponents who were all double digits on the tote board. Sweet Catomine looks even better now, if that were possible, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Meadowlands Breeders' Cup: The first impression may be that Dynever is set up for a big effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic after his fast-closing second here to Balto Star off a three-month layoff. However, the final time here was so slow that the winning Beyer Figure was only 94. Dynever is going to have to improve a minimum of 20 Beyer points, or about 13 lengths, to contend at Lone Star.

Shadwell Turf Mile: Nothing to Lose turned a competitive race into a runaway, and his sudden recent improvement is directly attributable to a reversion to his old running style, which is to drop back and make one big run. Perfect Soul's disappointing effort brings into question the strength of the form in the Atto Mile.

Champagne: Taking nothing away from Proud Accolade, who successfully stepped up in both class and distance (a very tough combination), and runner-up Afleet Alex, who had less than a smooth journey, but why was Sun King so close to the early lead? He didn't run that way in his strong maiden win and wasn't given his best chance here by being asked to run that way.