01/04/2002 1:00AM

Stuck with a stallion, and now he's paying off

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Five years after Soft Gold arrived from Brazil as a racing prospect, he is instead having an impact on California racing as a young stallion.

California owner-breeder John Elardi intended Soft Gold to start in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar in 1997, but an accident during transit prevented that from happening.

Elardi was left with a stallion prospect with an obscure race record that was difficult to sell to fellow breeders. In recent months, however, they have started to pay attention.

From his first crop, Soft Gold has had two restricted stakes winners from nine foals.

On Sunday, Soft Gold could have his first graded stakes winner when his daughter, Bella Bella Bella, starts as a heavy favorite in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita, a Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies over 1 1/16 miles.

"There has been outside interest and outside calls," Elardi said. "What happens with an unproven sire is it normally takes two or three crops to develop any interest."

Elardi bred Bella Bella Bella and owned her when she made her first start in a maiden race at 5 1/2 furlongs for California-breds on Oct. 27. Following a win in that race, the filly was purchased privately by Team Valor Racing Stable and transferred to its Southern California trainer, Jenine Sahadi.

Bella Bella Bella returned to win the restricted Golden Ballet Stakes for fillies over 6 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park on Dec. 8. The win came three days after Cable Ready, a gelding by Soft Gold, was moved up from second to first via disqualification in the restricted Free House Stakes for statebreds. Cable Ready races for Elardi and is trained by Jim Cassidy.

Bella Bella Bella and Cable Ready are the first two winners sired by the 10-year-old Soft Gold, who stands at Harris Farm in Coalinga, Calif.

From the start, Elardi was taking something of a gamble with Soft Gold. In Brazil, Soft Gold won three Group 1 races and placed in three other group races. While the female family reflects Argentine breeding, his male line is familiar to North American breeders. Soft Gold is by Fast Gold, a son of Mr. Prospector.

Elardi hoped that Soft Gold would race in California before going to stud. An ankle injury suffered during transit resulted in the elimination of those plans, even after Soft Gold was given a chance at a comeback.

"The damage to the ankle was too bad," Elardi said. "We wanted to pick off a few stakes wins and then stand him."

Initially, Elardi had Soft Gold at stud in Texas, where Elardi also operates as a breeder. After talking with Cassidy, a decision was made to send Soft Gold back to California.

"We felt he would be better suited in California," Elardi said. "I really liked his conformation and his attitude."

Despite Soft Gold's familiar pedigree and stakes wins in Brazil, Elardi was the sole breeder to send mares to Soft Gold in 1998 and 1999. There are 12 2-year-olds in the current crop, all from Elardi's 54-member broodmare band.

Elardi is optimistic the crop size of the crop will grow this year. He said he is screening outside mares on a "case-by-case basis." Soft Gold stands for a published stud fee of $2,000, live foal.

"I'm putting a gamble on my side with my mares to control what he goes to," Elardi said. "Of the outside horses, we want to get mares that are nice."

Elardi is best known as the owner of Jamaican Rum, who finished second in the Arkansas Derby and was unplaced in the 2001 Kentucky Derby. Jamaican Rum suffered a leg injury in the Haskell Invitational last August and is currently sidelined.

Jack's Silver, Jamaican Rum's 3-year-old half-brother, is by Soft Gold and is scheduled to start in a maiden race at Santa Anita Thursday. He could further enhance Soft Gold's impressive start at stud.

"My trainer is very happy with him," Elardi said of Jack's Silver. "I think he'll do extremely well, if not win."