10/18/2001 12:00AM

Calabrese's cohorts found Jaha in French 2YO sale

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - American owners regularly purchase European horses of racing age and bring them to this country.

Less frequently, you'll see a horse that sold in Europe as a yearling imported for an American racing career. But who was the last American racehorse you saw purchased out of a French 2-year-old in training sale?

That's where Jaha came from, which goes to show that his owner, Frank Calabrese, will buy a horse from just about anywhere. With the California-based trainer Wesley Ward bidding on his behalf, Calabrese paid $206,000 for Jaha, who topped April's Goff's sale in Paris. Jaha won his career debut here Sept. 8 and ranks as one of the prime contenders Saturday in the $75,000 Manila Stakes, for 2-year-olds at one mile on turf.

Steve Leving was Ward's agent during Ward's final days as a jockey in Chicago. Now he's Calabrese's racing manager, and when Ward went to France, Leving, always on the lookout for European bloodstock, asked him to inspect a couple of 2-year-olds by the young sire Octagonal. Ward called back: The Ocatagonals were okay. "But Wesley said this Diesis colt was a monster, the best horse in the sale," Leving said.

That was Jaha, who came into trainer Wayne Catalano's barn this spring and has impressed his connections all along. "You saw how he acted the first time he ran," Catalano said. "He ran like an older horse."

Indeed, Jaha rated comfortably in his debut, which came at a mile on grass. When he encountered traffic trouble he waited patiently until jockey Shane Sellers found room to run, and then accelerated with a sharp turn of foot to win by more than two lengths. With Sellers out of action, leading rider Rene Douglas picks up the mount.

"I think the question of how good he is will be answered Saturday," Catalano said. "It should give us a good idea of what kind of horse we've got."

Jaha faces a field full of promising young horses, many of whom have never tried turf. No Trouble, owned by Stonerside Stable, comes out of the Grade 2 Arlington-Washington Futurity and makes his grass debut for trainer Mike Stidham. Stidham does well with turf horses and No Trouble has the pedigree to excel on turf and at two turns.

Chatsworth closed to win a turf route race here earlier this month, while Dell Place was one of several turf winners trainer Tom Proctor saddled at the brief Kentucky Downs meet in southern Kentucky. A pair of turf debuters, Spring Winds and U S S Tinosa, come out of statebred wins in Ohio and Michigan, respectively, and both are bred to handle turf.

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