05/02/2008 12:00AM

Stella Mark claim pays big instantly


Stella Mark may turn out to be the claim of the year, if he isn't already.

Last Sunday, the 4-year-old gelding won his first stakes - the $150,000 Tiznow - one of 10 races at Hollywood Park that day for statebreds. Considering that he was claimed for $50,000 at Santa Anita in January, Stella Mark has turned out to be a lucrative investment for owner Jeffrey Sengara and trainer Ted H. West.

"He exceeded my expectations and we had high expectations going in," West said of the Tiznow Stakes. "He's kind of blossomed. He's improved in every start for us."

And they have been rewarded. In four starts and three victories for Sengara and West, Stella Mark has earned $171,306.

Stella Mark was helped in the Tiznow by the absence of Bilo, the winner of the 2007 California Cup Sprint, and the scratches of stakes winners Jack's Wild, Leesider, Lucky J.H., and Rush With Thunder.

But he still had to beat Johnny Eves, the winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in 2007, and Notional, a two-time graded stakes winner in 2007.

Ridden by Brice Blanc, Stella Mark rallied from fourth to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Cost of Freedom. A switch to a late-running style has been a boost to Stella Mark, West said.

"The adjustment in racing style is what he wanted to do all along," he said. "Brice gets him to relax."

Stella Mark has won 5 of 14 starts and $261,276 overall. Bred by Marty and Pam Wygod at their River Edge Farm in California, Stella Mark was purchased for just $6,000 as a yearling at Barretts in 2005 by trainer Doug O'Neill.

Trained by O'Neill, Stella Mark won his first race in his second start, a one-mile maiden race for statebreds at Santa Anita in January 2007. A gelding, Stella Mark had one more victory in 2007, an allowance race for statebreds, but had slumped into $50,000 claimers by the middle of the season. He made his last start of 2007 in July and was claimed by Sengara and West when he returned to racing in January.

The Tiznow victory has West preparing Stella Mark for another stakes, possibly the $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 26 or the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood on June 7.

Stella Mark had better get to winning more stakes. He has a long way to go to equal the accomplishments of Sengara and West's greatest claim, Budroyale, who was taken for $50,000 at Santa Anita in February 1998. A California-bred, Budroyale later finished second in the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic and 2000 Santa Anita Handicap and was a multiple stakes winner. He was named the 1999 California-bred horse of the year.

Jack's Wild goes to farm with ankle injury

Jack's Wild, who won two stakes in 2007 and was scheduled to make his 2008 debut in the Tiznow, has been sent to Magali Farm for a rest because of an ankle injury, trainer Jorge Gutierrez said.

Jack's Wild, a 6-year-old gelding by Lil Tyler, was diagnosed with an injury after a nuclear scan test earlier this week, Gutierrez said.

"He showed he had a little something in an ankle," Gutierrez said. "This is what the doctor recommended. He's not 100 percent. He X-rayed clean, but I didn't want to take any chances and had him nuclear scanned."

Jack's Wild has won 4 of 31 starts and $371,430. He won the Crystal Water and California Turf Championship handicaps for statebreds in 2007. Jack's Wild was fourth in the California Cup Mile at Santa Anita last November.