09/19/2001 11:00PM

Real life intrudes on Sengara's dreams


POMONA, Calif. - In December of 1999, Jeff Sengara and his family were still aglow over the fairy tale season of Budroyale. Budroyale had taken them to exciting places and given them memories of a lifetime, including a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park. Snug in their home in the sleepy suburbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, they almost wished that Bud could join them for the holidays ahead.

Then came the news of Dec. 14, and the arrest of Ahmed Ressam at the Port Angeles customs check just across the border in Washington. Ressam had ferried from Vancouver to Victoria before attempting to enter the United States with a car carrying two jars of nitroglycerin, 118 pounds of urea fertilizer, and four timing devices. His destination was Los Angeles, and the millennium celebrations to come.

"Vancouver is not New York or Los Angeles," Sengara said. "When that happened, when we learned that he must have spent some time here, we were in shock. We could only think, my god, they're living among us."

Sengara is head of Northstar Lumber Co. and a major player in the Vancouver business community. Relations between the U.S. and Canada always hit him close to home

"The soft-wood lumber dispute that's been going on between our countries for the past several months has brought tensions pretty high," Sengara said. "Then last Tuesday happened, and such insignificant problems evaporated and disappeared. The only thing Canadians became concerned with is our close neighbors and families across the line."

Sengara hails from a second generation of native-born British Columbians. His grandfather immigrated there from the Punjab region of India more than 80 years ago. His late father, Sardara Sengara, prospered in the lumber business and got the family involved in horse racing.

When Jeff Sengara looks in the mirror, he sees a 32-year-old husband and father of two small children, Kevin and Anita. Then there are the kind of people who would look at Sengara and see only his dark brown skin, his dark hair, and features that might put him in a certain cultural category.

One of those people - his name is Frank Roque - shot Balbir Singh Sodhi to death in Mesa, Ariz., four days after Arab terrorists flew hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Sodhi was a 49-year-old gas station owner who was born in Punjab.

Such reports of violent backlash gave Sengara pause. He had planned to fly to Southern California this weekend to watch Budroyale, his pride and joy, compete in the $100,000 Pomona Invitational Handicap at Fairplex Park on Sunday.

"At first I wasn't going to come down," Sengara said. "I heard about that guy getting shot in Arizona, and I thought about my responsibility to my family. Then Naseem, my wife, convinced me I should go. She told me I needed to be with Bud. And when I think about it, I have more friends in Southern California than I do in my own city, all because of Budroyale."

The bond goes back to February of 1998, when Sengara claimed Budroyale for $50,000. Besides winning such events as the Goodwood Handicap, the San Antonio Handicap, and the Longacres Mile, Budroyale went on to finish second in the Santa Anita Handicap and the Hollywood Gold Cup, in addition to the '99 Classic. His grinding style and modest beginnings elevated Budroyale to hero status among casual fans and two-dollar players. Sengara made himself useful by answering Bud's fan mail.

But the wheels came off last year. After poor races by Budroyale at Oaklawn and Pimlico, trainer Ted H. West discovered that Budroyale had suffered a fractured shoulder that would require several months of farm rest.

"My life last year without him took a whole different turn," Sengara said. "I don't mean to sound melodramatic, but it was very sobering, almost like I was living without part of my own history. I know I've been very spoiled. As soon as I got into racing, I got Bud. That's the standard I was living with."

West put Budroyale back into training during this spring. The plan was to watch closely and hope that age had not taken too much of a toll on the 8-year-old.

Unfortunately, the only place Budroyale could return was Del Mar, and Del Mar is a black hole for Budroyale. Despite his good health and robust training, he flopped miserably in both the San Diego Handicap on July 29 and the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 2. He record is now 0 for 4 at the beach.

"If ever there was the epitome of an all-out, front-line warrior, it's Bud," Sengara said. "That's why I've felt so bad about the way he has run. I should have never let him run that last time at Del Mar. But we got fooled into thinking he was handling the track better than he was, because of his works.

I felt bad for Bud; I dealt with a lot of guilt after that race. I really felt like I'd taken an opportunity and blown it.

"Hopefully this is just a stage for him. He's always been able to come through the adversity. What a symbol it would be on Sunday if the 'people's horse' could pull one out and get on his road again.

"It's amazing what the Thoroughbred will do for the soul," Sengara added. "Even if Bud's presence only helps one person be distracted from all this tragedy, and puts their mind and soul in a happier place for just those couple of minutes, what better role could he have?"