10/22/2003 11:00PM

Stakes raised for rematch


ARCADIA, Calif. - Eight months ago, Got Koko swept Santa Anita's La Canada series, a feat that culminated in a victory over Sightseek in the La Canada Stakes. They meet for the first time since then on Saturday, and the stakes are even higher.

Got Koko and Sightseek will be gunning for an Eclipse Award as champion older filly or mare when they duel in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, the first of eight World Thoroughbred Championship races at Santa Anita. And though these two accomplished 4-year-old fillies figure to be the top two betting choices in the race, the Distaff, though short on numbers, came up long on talent.

The seven-horse field also includes the consistent Take Charge Lady, who most recently won the Spinster Stakes for the second straight year. The 3-year-old fillies Buy the Sport, Elloluv, and Lady Tak, Grade 1 winners themselves, will be trying to upset their elders and secure an Eclipse Award in their division. And longshot Adoration, who has come within hailing distance of Got Koko and Sightseek in important stakes this year, will likely try to steal the race with a front-running effort from her inside draw.

Sightseek enters the Distaff as the acknowledged leader of the division, now that Azeri is likely to be retired, and as the heavy favorite to wrap up an Eclipse Award. She has won four straight Grade 1 races in Kentucky and New York, most recently the 1 1/8-mile Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Distaff is the same distance as the Beldame, but there is one huge difference. At Santa Anita, a nine-furlong race is run around two turns. For all that she has accomplished - winning 8 times in 12 starts, and finishing second the other four times - Sightseek has never won a two-turn race. She was second in two 1 1/8-mile races at Santa Anita earlier this year, including the La Canada.

Got Koko displayed her affinity for Santa Anita in the winter, and she hammered the point home four weeks ago when she captured the Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap. She has won 5 times in 7 starts here.

Take Charge Lady was a distant second to Sightseek in the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont Park in June in their only previous meeting. She has never raced at Santa Anita. But she is remarkably reliable, having won 11 times in 20 starts, with seven second-place finishes. Take Charge Lady arrived in California on Thursday after a flight from Kentucky.

Elloluv has the look of a live longshot. She returned from a near five-month layoff in the Lady's Secret and finished second, only three-quarters of a length behind Got Koko, before being disqualified to fourth for interfering with Adoration late in the stretch. As a 3-year-old, she gets a four-pound weight break (123-119) from her elders.

"She's a little thing," said her trainer, Craig Dollase. "We call her the Pocket Rocket. She's small, but she's got a big stride."

Lady Tak's best performance this year was in the seven-furlong Test Stakes at Saratoga, and though she has won going two turns, 1 1/8 miles might be testing the limits of her range. She blew a commanding lead when the previously unheralded Buy the Sport upset her in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle Handicap seven weeks ago.

Buy the Sport followed that 48-1 stunner in the Gazelle by finishing 9 1/4 lengths behind Sightseek when third in the Beldame.

Adoration pressed the pace and then tired late when crossing the wire fourth in the Lady's Secret. She is another who might find 1 1/8 miles a bit too long.