09/11/2003 12:00AM

Wild Spirit plays backup in Ruffian

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Whatever went through trainer Bobby Frankel's barn at Saratoga has seemed to follow the stable down south to Belmont Park. Frankel said 10 horses in his barn are coughing, among them Sightseek, who will not run as scheduled in Saturday's $300,000 Ruffian Handicap.

But, Frankel has the luxury of going to a strong bench, and he will turn to both Wild Spirit and You in the Grade 1 Ruffian at Belmont. The Ruffian, run at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, is one of four stakes on Saturday's 10-race card, which also includes the Grade 2 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on turf, the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap for 3-year-olds on dirt, and the Grade 3 Floral Park Handicap for sprinting fillies and mares on dirt.

Sightseek is viewed by many as the major threat to defending Horse of the Year Azeri in next month's Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita. She has won three straight Grade 1 races and was going to be a heavy favorite in the Ruffian. But, Frankel said Sightseek has been coughing and missed three days of training before returning to the track on Thursday for a jog. Frankel believes the problem may simply be allergies and hopes to run Sightseek in the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 5 as a prep for the Distaff.

"She seems fine this morning, but I can't take a chance," Frankel said. "I've learned don't fight it, just go along with it. Fortunately, I've got a horse like Wild Spirit as a substitute."

Wild Spirit, a multiple Group 1 winner in Chile, appeared to be on par with Sightseek after devastatingly easy victories in the Shuvee and Delaware handicaps. She was a 1-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap on Aug. 22 at Saratoga but was beaten a nose by Passing Shot. Jockey Jerry Bailey was vocal in his complaints that the eight-pound weight spread between Wild Spirit and Passing Shot was the difference. But, with time to think about it, Frankel believes there were other factors involved.

"Looking at the race and discussing it with some people, I don't think she likes the inside that much, but the main thing is she doesn't like to get hit," said Frankel, who was probably not happy to learn that Wild Spirit drew the rail for the Ruffian. "You might be able to tap her, but she doesn't like to get beat up."

Frankel noted that Wild Spirit was hit with the whip once in the Shuvee and was not hit at all in the Delaware Handicap. In the Personal Ensign, Bailey hit Wild Spirit eight times in the stretch.

Frankel said Wild Spirit has trained well since the Personal Ensign, and he was most impressed by her five-furlong move in 59.66 seconds last Saturday.

Rain is in the forecast, but an off track shouldn't hinder Wild Spirit, who has won over wet tracks in Chile.

You has won eight graded stakes, ranging in distance from 6 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. She is a multiple Grade 1 winner at Belmont, taking the Frizette at 2 and the Acorn at 3. You finished seventh in the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga, and Frankel said she came out of that race with filling in a pastern. Frankel said that filling quickly subsided and he believes You could be dangerous if allowed to shake free early. Eibar Coa rides You from post 3.

Devon Rose figures to keep You honest, and Passing Shot should not be too far behind. Passing Shot has improved dramatically, with three consecutive victories, including her upset of Wild Spirit in the Personal Ensign. The weight spread between Wild Spirit and Passing Shot will be six pounds on Saturday.

She's Got the Beat finished a well-beaten second behind Sightseek in the Go for Wand at Saratoga. She's Got the Beat has run well both at Belmont and in the slop. Phil Johnson, trainer of She's Got the Beat, wasn't upset to learn of Sightseek's defection.

"It's better to have her out," he said. "I don't now about [Wild Spirit's] current form. I know Sightseek was a tough cookie. Like they say, everything helps, and the rain would help, too."

Nonsuch Bay, the 2002 Mother Goose winner, completes the field.

The field

Ruffian Handicap

Purse $300,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1 Wild SpiritJ. Bailey1214-5
2 Devon RoseJ. Chavez 11512-1
3 YouE. Coa1183-1
4Passing ShotJ. Santos1157-2
5 Nonsuch BayM. Guidry11310-1
6 She's Got the BeatJ. Velazquez11315-1

* Odds by Dan Illman

* Television: Sunday (tape delay), 3:30-4:30 p.m., ESPN2