INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Stormello will duck no one. The California-based Stormello will ship to Gulfstream Park for his 3-year-old debut March 3 in the Grade 2, $350,000 Fountain of Youth, the same race targeted by current Kentucky Derby favorite Nobiz Like Shobiz.
Stormello has not raced since winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 16, but owner-trainer Bill Currin said the 3-for-7 colt is up the challenge.
"I can't hold him to the ground anymore, and I don't want to be accused of ducking anything," Currin said Tuesday at Hollywood Park. "I want to take on the best."
Last year, Stormello emerged as the best 2-year-old in California for Currin and co-owner Al Eisman. He won his second start July 29, placed in successive Grade 2 sprints at Del Mar, and won the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes during the fall Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita. After a distant fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Stormello won the Hollywood Futurity by a neck. Freshened since, Stormello has trained strongly in recent weeks.
Currin cited several reasons for shipping Stormello out of town rather than run in the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes the same day at Santa Anita.
"My first inclination was to take the low road, but the Fountain of Youth looks good in the stallion book, the purse is higher, and it is a mile and an eighth," Currin said. "I want that added distance; we have to creep up to a mile and a quarter."
Kent Desormeaux will ride Stormello in the Fountain of Youth, after which the colt will be considered for yet another ambitious spot - the $2 million UAE Derby on March 31 in Dubai.
"It's something that's on the plate," Currin said, adding, "he'd have to win the [Fountain of Youth] laughingly."
Currin ran Outta Here in the UAE and Kentucky derbies in 2003. He finished fourth and seventh, respectively.
Tiago, Exhale jump into deep waters
With Stormello shipping to Florida, two well-regarded Santa Anita maiden winners will find it easier to pick up graded earnings in the Robert Lewis. Tiago, a half-brother to Giacomo who won a Jan. 21 maiden route race via disqualification, and Exhale, who earned a 104 Beyer winning a Jan. 15 sprint, are expected to skip the first condition and go directly into the Grade 2 Lewis.
Tiago is trained by normally conservative John Shirreffs, who admitted he's thinking Kentucky Derby.
"At this point, if you want to have every chance, you have to go for graded earnings," he said.
Tiago, a Pleasant Tap colt owned and bred by Jerry and Ann Moss, will also be considered for the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes on March 17.
Exhale faces the same dilemma.
"We need to get some earnings," trainer John Sadler said.
Exhale worked five furlongs Monday at Hollywood in 1:00.60. He is scheduled for a six-furlong workout Sunday.
Two fillies heading in new direction
The last-place and next-to-last finishers last Saturday in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes - Jump On In and Romance Is Diane - are off the Santa Anita/Kentucky Oaks trail.
Last-place Jump On In will get a break, trainer John Sadler said, adding, "it is back to one turn for her."
"She pulled up [tired]," he said. "We'll check her out real close, and give her a break."
Jump On In won a Dec. 28 allowance sprint by five lengths, and followed with a romp Jan. 15 in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Santa Ynez.
Romance Is Diane won the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on Cushion Track and is a full sister to a grass specialist, Del Mar Derby winner Romanceishope. She will try to emulate her brother when she switches to turf for her next start. Trainer Mike Mitchell said Romance Is Diane did not care for dirt in her face in the Las Virgenes.
"There is a big difference between Cushion Track and the main track at Santa Anita," Mitchell said. "Cushion Track doesn't throw it back in your face like the main track at Santa Anita does."
Mitchell said Romance Is Diane will start next March 3 in the $75,000 China Doll for 3-year-old fillies at a mile on turf.
Runway Rosie still Oaks-bound
Las Virgenes third-place finisher Runway Rosie will stick to the Oaks trail, according to trainer David Hofmans, who recognizes that wide-trip Las Virgenes winner Rags to Riches will be tough to beat.
"We'll try [Runway Rosie] back in the Santa Anita Oaks, and hope that Rags to Riches runs in the Santa Anita Derby," Hofmans said with a laugh.
Balance came out of her sharp win Sunday in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes in good shape, Hofmans said, and will run next on March 10 in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap. Balance and Santa Maria winner Sugar Shake are the leading contenders for the Santa Margarita.
Publication preps for San Carlos
The 8-year-old sprinter Publication and comeback turf horse Willow O Wisp worked in company Monday at Hollywood Park for trainer Vladimir Cerin. Publication, a Grade 2 winner in 2001 and fourth-place finisher that year in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, will start as a longshot Saturday in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap at seven furlongs.
"He'll be ignored by everyone, but not by us," Cerin said.
Latent Heat and Siren Lure are the early favorites.
Willow O Wisp, winner of four graded stakes, is nearing his first start since last summer. Cerin said the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap at one mile April 7 is the logical spot. Cerin is operating his stable under trying circumstances - his wife, Kellie, died unexpectedly Feb. 1.