01/30/2004 1:00AM

A veteran everyone can root for


ARCADIA, Calif. - Cajun Beat threw the first punch, winning the Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 3. Shake You Down countered with his runaway victory in the Sunshine Millions Sprint, also at Gulfstream, on Jan. 24.

Now it's the old guy's turn, as Bluesthestandard steps into the ring to commence his 7-year-old campaign Sunday in the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita Park. With that, the race for 2004's top sprinter will officially be underway.

Cajun Beat, Bluesthestandard, and Shake You Down finished one-two-three in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last October at Santa Anita. Until proven otherwise, they are the leaders of the division, especially now that Aldebaran and Avanzado have been retired.

Bluesthestandard will come out swinging, no doubt about that. Horses who win 14 races are few and far between, and they strut this earth with a special flair. Still, Bluesthestandard will need to be near his very best just to stay afloat in the six-furlong Palos Verdes, which has drawn the fastest available field. Boston Common, Captain Squire, Marino Marini, Tough Game, Summer Service, Our New Recruit, and Giovanetti are all capable of uncorking a 1:08.

Of course, none of them have Jeff Sengara in their corner. Sengara, the owner of Bluethestandard, came to racing's attention when he spun the common thread of Budroyale into million-dollar gold, nearly winning the 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic with the former claimer. To his amazement, Sengara has repeated the pattern with Bluesthestandard, a one-time $10,000 claimer who lost the 2003 BC Sprint by just 2 1/4 lengths.

"It still hasn't sunk in yet," said Sengara, who was in town with his wife, Naseem, and children, Kevin and Anita, for the Palos Verdes. "When he rolled up along the inside in the Breeders' Cup, I forced myself to think, 'There's no way, no way.' It was surreal, and so many similarities to Florida when Bud almost won the Classic. But you know how emotional I get."

Sengara, whose business is softwood lumber, does tend to wear his racing on his sleeve. And no one in the history of the game has ever gotten so much enjoyment out of finishing second. The day Sengara finally wins one of these big ones, they'll need to carry him out in a basket.

Sengara's racing pedigree is blueblooded Western Canadian. His father, Sandara Sengara, raced horses with Buster Millerick, including the top stakes winner Mr. Prime Minister. Jeff is also related to the Jawl family, whose members have made a lasting impact on the sport in British Columbia and the American Northwest.

Budroyale was a 4-year-old of modest accomplishment when Jeff claimed him for $50,000 in February of 1998. Under the training of Ted West and West's son, Ted H. West, Budroyale went on to win more than $2.7 million, with his biggest wins coming in the San Antonio Handicap and the Longacres Mile.

Bluesthestandard, on the other hand, was already well on his way to folk hero status when Jeff and the Wests claimed him for $50,000 on Dec. 31, 2002, at Santa Anita.

To that point, Bluesthestandard had already won nine races up and down the claiming ladder for four different sets of owners and trainers. He had become the darling of the Southern California simulcast network, with each appearance trumpeted by commentator Kurt Hoover as a cause for celebration. Unbeknownst to Jeff, Bluesthestandard was even the subject of an ongoing documentary project being created by fledgling filmmaker Dale Morrentino.

"We still are out there filming him as fans," Morrentino said. "But the Breeders' Cup gave us a great ending to the story we're trying to tell. That was so exciting my wife wanted to get a winner's circle picture. I had to keep telling her Bluesthestandard didn't win - it only felt that way."

After their trip to the top of the mountain with Budroyale, the Sengaras tried to find another Budroyale through conventional sales acquisitions. Their small stable swelled to more than 20 horses.

"That just wasn't my M.O.," Jeff said. "I can't be Bob Lewis and go spend $15 million on yearlings. Even if I could, I don't think I would. I know the kind of guy I am, and I'm proud of the route we've taken. We claim horses, and we try to make fairy tales out of them."

And when the fairy tale is over, the horses have a home for life. The Sengaras retired Budroyale to Canmor Farm, not far from their home in Vancouver, where he shares a field with fellow Longacres Mile winner Kid Katabatic. Bluesthestandard will have a home there, as well, when he comes to the end of his run. Cost is not an issue.

"When people make tough decisions, they tend to spend a lot of time fretting about it," Jeff said. "But if you can make decisions that come from your heart, it's quite likely those decisions are never going to be wrong.

"So when you love racing as much as our family does - especially the way we do it - I think there is something very positive in the energy field about that," he said. "And when you love it for the purest form it can offer, I just think good things follow."