04/23/2003 11:00PM

Claiming tags to riches?

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Last year, Bluesthestandard was racing for a claiming price of $10,000. Saturday, he will be shooting for his fifth straight win as one of the favorites in the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park.

The Texas Mile, the first major stakes of this meet, drew nine older horses, including Private Emblem, who is coming off a smashing comeback win following a six-month layoff; Bonapaw, who will be reunited with jockey Gerard Melancon; Unrullah Bull, a former claimer who won the 2002 Texas Mile; and Oak Hall, who earned a 111 Beyer Speed Figure two starts ago while winning the $75,000 Bayou State at Delta Downs.

Bluesthestandard is one of the best things to come out of the Georgia breeding program since millionaire Vivace. A winner of 13 races from 20 starts, he was claimed by trainer Ted H. West on behalf of owner Jeffrey Sengara for $50,000 four starts ago at Santa Anita.

After winning two optional claiming races for his new connections, he stepped up and won the Grade 2, $200,000 Potrero Grande over Joey Franco and champion Kona Gold.

"He is amazing," West said.

The bulk of Bluesthestandard's success has come racing around one turn, but he won at 1 1/16 miles two races ago, and the manner in which he finished in the Potrero Grande, which he won by two lengths, led West to point for the Texas Mile.

"We're hoping that a mile might be his best distance," West said. "Last time going six and a half [furlongs], the jock said he couldn't pull him up, so we've been looking to run him a mile."

Bluesthestandard figures to be close to the pace Saturday, and will be ridden by Martin Pedroza.

Private Emblem, who last year won four stakes races, including the Grade 2, $500,000 Arkansas Derby, was an easy four-length winner of his 4-year-old debut, which came in an optional claiming race at Oaklawn March 29.

His effort impressed Steve Asmussen, who trains Private Emblem for the Grand Prairie-based partnership of James Cassels and Bob Zollars.

"I was as happy with it as I could possibly be," Asmussen said. "I thought he won against a decent group in a dominant style, and it looked like he had something left."

Private Emblem, who tends to stalk the pace, figures to be tracking hot fractions in the Texas Mile.

"There's a tremendous amount of pace in the race," Asmussen said. "Private Emblem is pretty handy. He's not a horse that's way back, [but] he might be against this group at a mile."

Corey Lanerie will ride.