06/18/2004 11:00PM

Sightseek finds her old spark

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Sightseek, Jerry Bailey aboard, runs and hides from her three foes in the Ogden Phipps Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park.

ELMONT, N.Y. - In a race that could signal a changing of the guard in the filly and mare division, Sightseek put away Azeri leaving the three-furlong pole and drew off to an easy 3 1/4-length victory over Storm Flag Flying in the Grade 1, $300,000 before 7,498 at Belmont Park.

It was 6 1/2 lengths back to Passing Shot, and another two lengths back to Azeri, the two time defending division champion, who finished last as the 4-5 favorite after setting the early pace.

Sightseek, under Jerry Bailey, stalked Azeri and Pat Day through fractions of 23.32 seconds and 45.73. After opening up a six-length margin in midstretch, Sightseek ($6.70) was geared down by Bailey and covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.46 over a fast track.

It was the second straight year that Sightseek, owned by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Bobby Frankel, won this race. She is now 4 for 4 at Belmont. In bouncing back from a fourth-place finish in the Louisville Breeders' Cup, Sightseek put herself back in contention for year-end honors in a wide-open division.

Bailey said he felt a different Sightseek during pre-race warm-ups than the one who stumbled through the slop at Churchill. Bailey said he kept Sightseek aggressive going to the gate "because I didn't want Azeri to get away," he said. "She was in command at every pole."

Meanwhile, Day said Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, did not seem comfortable during the race. It was Azeri's third straight loss after she won 15 of her first 17 career starts.

"Even when she cleared horses a little bit she never put her head up and pricked her ears and acted happy," said Day, who won four races on the card. "When Jerry came to her at the half-mile pole and put a little pressure on her, she actually pinned her ears and resented it."

D. Wayne Lukas, who took over the training of Azeri this year, is hanging his hat on the age-old excuse that Azeri didn't care for the track. In her previous start here, Azeri finished eighth against males in the Metropolitan Handicap.

"She's run twice here and she's run two of her sub-par races here," Lukas said. "I'm glad we don't have another one. Physically, she looks fine. We'll research it and come up with something. Obviously, that's not the mare we expected."

Storm Flag Flying was no match for the winner after racing in close attendance to the pace. In the paddock before the race, Storm Flag Flying needed a repair to her right front shoe and she reared up three times while that was being done.

* The New York Racing Association announced Saturday that Saratoga simulcasts would return to Aqueduct. Last year, the Spa simulcasts were held at Belmont Park while construction on the yet-to-be completed slots room was ongoing. The Saratoga meet runs from July 28-Sept. 6.