10/05/2004 11:00PM

Weekend preps might not clear things up


Three of the leading candidates for champion older filly or mare and a candidate for the 3-year-old filly title will be in action this weekend in two significant preps for the Oct. 30 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

First up is Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park, which is expected to feature older runners Sightseek and Storm Flag Flying and the 3-year-old Society Selection. And then Sunday at Keeneland, the division's two-time defending champion, Azeri, should be a heavy favorite in the Grade 1, $500,000 Overbrook Spinster Stakes.

But these races might not offer definition to the Distaff. Sightseek, who is undefeated at Belmont Park, could sail off into the sunset if she wins the Beldame, since trainer Bobby Frankel has intimated that he is reluctant to send Sightseek to the Breeders' Cup. And the connections of Azeri are still flirting with the possibility of tackling males in the Classic on Oct. 30.

The Beldame and Spinster could not be more different. The Beldame is around one turn and is not expected to have a hot pace, but has a fairly deep field. The Spinster should have plenty of pace with Azeri, but the field should not be as deep, even though it is a two-turn race, like the Distaff at Lone Star.

Society Selection is locked in a pitched battle with Ashado for champion 3-year-old filly. Ashado has yet to take on older rivals, so if Society Selection can capture the Beldame, she will have that going for her.

"If you're going to be great, you have to run against the great ones," said Allen Jerkens, who trains Society Selection. "She's training as good as you could possibly hope."

Society Selection has won both the Test Stakes and Alabama Stakes since adding Lasix.

"Lasix did help her," Jerkens said. "She bled just a little bit, so we put her on it, especially going to Saratoga, where horses bleed more than other places. Her last two races have been real big."

Storm Flag Flying, the 2-year-old filly champ of 2002, has bounced back with an excellent campaign following a disastrous 2003 season. She ran down Azeri to capture the Personal Ensign at Saratoga in her last start.

"I thought she ran great. All her races have been better and better," her trainer, Shug McGaughey, said Wednesday morning from his barn at Belmont Park. "That race was her best race of the year. I'm very pleased with how things have gone this year. We kept her going with the hope of running in the Breeders' Cup."

Azeri is running in the Spinster, as opposed to the Beldame, because she is much more effective in two-turn races. One of the brave souls who will challenge her is trainer Ron McAnally, who on Wednesday sent his 3-year-old filly House of Fortune to Keeneland. McAnally is a formidable presence in the Spinster - he has won it four times since 1989.

Ashado, who won Saturday's Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park, "came out of the race super and all systems are go" for the Distaff, according to trainer Todd Pletcher. Island Fashion is also headed to the Distaff after winning last Sunday's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita.

Distaff contenders
3-year-olds & up, fillies & mares, 1 1/8 miles. Purse: $2 million.

1SightseekR. Frankel7-2
Here is a plea that after the Beldame, she starts once more, in this
2AzeriD. W. Lukas3-1
Even if she romps in Spinster, she should run here, not in the Classic
3Storm Flag FlyingC. McGaughey6-1
Not sure she can beat the top two without some outside assistance
4Island FashionM. Polanco8-1
She can build on her Lady's Secret; then again, she will have to
5Society SelectionH. A. Jerkens12-1
We'll see how 3yos stack up vs. older when she goes in Beldame
6AshadoT. Pletcher8-1
As easy as her prep was in Philly is as tough as this race will be
7ElloluvC. Dollase20-1
Her third in the Lady's Secret was okay, nothing more, nothing less
8House of FortuneR. McAnally30-1
Can improve her ranking with a good effort vs. Azeri at Keeneland
9Stellar JayneD. W. Lukas30-1
Had a tough trip at Hoosier, but is still a deep backup for the barn
10TamweelW. Catalano30-1
Second to last year's winner Adoration at Arlington; still a longshot

- The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.