06/26/2003 11:00PM

No more claiming tags for Stalking Tiger

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It does not surprise trainer Paul Aguirre that Stalking Tiger is undefeated in two starts, including the $94,050 Haggin Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 21.

Since the California-bred gelding joined his barn last month following a private purchase, Stalking Tiger has impressed Aguirre, sometimes by doing nothing.

While some 2-year-olds can be playful and a problem for handlers, Stalking Tiger is the opposite, Aguirre said.

"He gives you confidence around the barn," Aguirre said. "He's always laying down sleeping and taking care of himself."

The low-key approach has given Aguirre and owner David Milch a promising statebred runner for the upcoming rich stakes at Del Mar.

They are pointing Stalking Tiger to the $125,000 Graduation Stakes over 5 1/2 furlongs for California-breds at Del Mar on July 30. The race comes 11 days after another option, the $100,000 Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs, the first graded stakes of the year for the division which could draw a tough field.

Despite his early success, Stalking Tiger had an inauspicious start to life as a racehorse. He was sold for just $4,700 at the American Equine Sales Yearling Sale last summer and was not even sold at the Barretts May Sale of 2-year-olds in training last month.

Aguirre had been tipped to the horse's potential and bought Stalking Tiger after he was withdrawn from the sale because of illness.

Stalking Tiger made his career debut on May 29 in a $40,000 claiming race for maidens over five furlongs at Hollywood Park. Sent off at 5-1, he led throughout, winning by 4 1/2 lengths.

Aguirre thought he would be safe by putting Stalking Tiger in a claiming race. "We didn't think he'd shown enough to be claimed," he said.

The next day, Aguirre called Milch and offered a private sale.

"He knew I liked the horse going in," Aguirre said.

Aguirre and Milch met several years ago while watching races from a clubhouse VIP room at Hollywood Park. To Aguirre, Milch was a racing friend and not just the producer of such famous television shows as "NYPD Blue."

"I kind of know what my talents are," Aguirre said. "It's not acting."

Stalking Tiger is one of approximately 10 horses owned by Milch, who owned such prominent runners as Val Royal, the winner of the 2001 Breeders' Cup Mile, and Gilded Time, the champion 2-year-old of 1992. Milch has reduced his holdings in the last year.

Asked what level of involvement he would like to have in horse ownership, Milch said, "It depends on what time of day it is."

Stalking Tiger is by Twin Spires, a 9-year-old Storm Cat colt who stands at Meadowcreek Ranch in Auburn, Calif. Twin Spires stood for $4,000 in 2002, but was listed at private treaty this year.

Bred by Joe Daehling and Jack Woolsey, Stalking Tiger is from the second crop by Twin Spires. On the racetrack, Twin Spires won 5 of 17 starts and $149,427 and placed in two stakes while racing on the East Coast.

Stalking Tiger is the most successful foal out of Just Plain Fancy, who is by Falstaff. Just Plain Fancy won 3 of 32 starts and $138,425 and placed in three stakes in northern California.

Just Plain Fancy has a yearling filly by Scherando. Stalking Tiger is Just Plain Fancy's first winner and her third foal.

Stalking Tiger was Aguirre's first stakes winner at Hollywood Park, a point that was not met with jubilation by the trainer. "That's a little embarrassing," said Aguirre, 46. "I've been here quite a while."

If the Haggin Stakes is any indication, Aguirre could be adding to that total in coming months.