Sports Betting

Stormello trainer hopes for better in return

When he flies from California to Florida today, Kentucky Derby hopeful Stormello might get a free drink and peanuts to go along with the usual in-flight hay.

He'll at least have better than on his previous trip to Florida, when he spent an unexpected 14 hours caged in a shipping pallet. Upon changing planes in Texas, his new flight was delayed while resolving mechanical problems.

Stormello steamed in the humidity and heat.

Did the long trip cost him the Fountain of Youth Stakes by a nose to Scat Daddy? Trainer Bill Curlin hopes to reverse the finish order when he brings Stormello back to Gulfstream Park for the $1 million Florida Derby on Saturday.

Besides Scat Daddy, Stormello will meet Notional, also coming from California, and six others: Imawildandcrazyguy, Adore the Gold, Chelokee, Boogie Boggs, Johannesburg Star, and Birdbirdistheword.

Scat Daddy is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for this Grade I, 11/8-mile stakes that will serve as the final Kentucky Derby prep for those in this field.

All that Curlin hopes for Stormello -- besides an easy flight -- is a slower early pace than he made while pressed most of the way in the Fountain of Youth. He got nailed at the finish by fast-closing Scat Daddy, the latter rolling in from sixth after a wide trip.

"It was awfully, awfully close," Curlin said. "I was pleased because my horse kicked back."

Besides Scat Daddy, Curlin also is concerned in particular about Notional and Adore the Gold. Notional, winner of the Risen Star Stakes in February, is one of four Derby hopefuls from trainer Doug O'Neill's barn in California. Florida-based Adore the Gold ran fourth in the Fountain of Youth.

But Curlin said he thinks the entire Florida Derby field is so strong that, "I'd almost predict the Triple Crown will come out of this race."

While Stormello was never certain to show up for the Fountain of Youth in early March -- he almost couldn't get a plane -- he was rather unexpected for the Florida Derby.

"I wanted to wait for the Arkansas Derby (April 14)," Curlin said. "But my horse made the decision for me.

"You can't hold him to the ground (right now)," Curlin said, in trainer-speak for "my horse is feeling so great he's demanding to race."

O'Neill will have horses running in four races on two continents Saturday. In addition to Notional in the Florida Derby, three others will be racing in Dubai, headed by Lava Man in the Dubai Duty Free.

The O'Neill brothers -- Doug and his assistant, Dennis -- did not go to Dubai but will be on hand with Notional at Gulfstream Park.

"We'll find a great place in Florida to watch the Dubai races, then head to Gulfstream," Dennis said. He said they did not go to Dubai because their wives were not keen on going, "because it's too close to Baghdad."

But he also said he and Doug want to stay close to their armada of Derby hopefuls. They will bring Great Hunter to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 14. Their other prospects will race on April 7, Liquidity in the Santa Anita Derby and Cobalt Blue in the Illinois Derby.

Florida Derby

When: Saturday

Where: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Fla.

Post time: 5:30 p.m.