02/27/2007 1:00AM

Adore the Gold just may shine like his daddy

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Adore the Gold (right) will bring a 4-for-5 record and some flashy Beyers to the Fountain of Youth. Owner John Murphy (above) guarantees his colt will make his presence felt.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Ten years after campaigning the best horse he's ever owned, John Murphy may finally have found his next best one. And while Formal Gold took Murphy on a worldwide journey in 1997, one of Formal Gold's sons, Adore the Gold, could possibly take Murphy somewhere he's never been before - Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Adore the Gold, who has won four of his first five career starts, gets an opportunity to formally join the Triple Crown trail Saturday when he takes on division leader Nobiz Like Shobiz and California invader Stormello in the Grade 2, $350,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.

"This is a nice horse,'' Murphy, a retired 75-year-old former steel construction company executive, said this week from his Quincy, Mass., home. "People don't know it yet.''

That's probably because of the road Adore the Gold has taken to get to this point. He began his career winning a $50,000 maiden claiming race at six furlongs at Delaware Park. Trainer Michael Gorham immediately stretched him out around two turns, winning the Dover Stakes at Delaware by 2 1/2 lengths.

After suffering his only defeat in the Grade 3 Nashua at Aqueduct, where his connections said he didn't handle the track, Adore the Gold ended his 2-year-old season by winning the H. Steward Mitchell Stakes by four lengths on Dec. 2.

Last month, Adore the Gold caught people's attention with a solid victory in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs. He dueled with the Nick Zito-trained Forefathers through strong fractions before pulling away from him in deep stretch to win by three-quarters of a length. He earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for that effort.

"I think in the long run that will help him,'' Gorham said of the Swale. "They pressured him along and made him run; it'll just make him that much fitter and stronger.''

Cornelio Velasquez rode Adore the Gold in the Swale, but he is also the regular rider of Nobiz Like Shobiz and will ride that one in the Fountain of Youth. After Buffalo Man got injured in a workout on Sunday, jockey Edgar Prado, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby aboard Barbaro, picked up the mount on Adore the Gold.

Gorham, a 42-year-old Massachusetts native who is based primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region, said he has been high on Adore the Gold since he got him. Gorham said he ran him in a claiming race first time out only because he thought he could get away with it.

"Part of the game is taking an edge, so first time out we took a little edge, and it worked out for us,'' Gorham said. "I didn't think he would get claimed. He didn't really work impressively, and for someone to say he's worth $50,000 . . . The pedigree wasn't really strong to where someone would say that.''

Perhaps that's because Formal Gold has not proven to be as good a sire as he was a racehorse. In 1996, Formal Gold won his first four career starts, including a 10 3/4-length debut win at Monmouth Park that earned him a 112 Beyer, still the highest debut Beyer ever recorded.

Close losses in the Pennsylvania Derby and Meadowlands Cup still earned Formal Gold a shot in the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he finished fifth, beaten 4 3/4 lengths by the winner, Alphabet Soup.

At 4, Formal Gold beat Skip Away 4 out of 6 times they met, including in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap here. Formal Gold trounced Skip Away by more than five lengths in both the Iselin Handicap and the Woodward but was injured training up to the Breeders' Cup Classic, a race that Skip Away won by a then-record six lengths.

Upon retirement, Formal Gold began his stud career at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky, but got mostly mares provided by Murphy. Formal Gold now stands at stud at Rancho San Miguel in California.

"I think we're due to have another Formal Gold because he never got the recognition he was supposed to get,'' Murphy said. "My wife, she prays lot, and she said we're going to get one one day.''

Murphy may have a little angel on his side this spring. Adore the Gold is the product of the mare Amore E Baci, a mare purchased for Murphy by Dan Mallory, the well-respected Kentucky breeder who was killed in a plane crash last August at Lexington's Blue Grass airport. Murphy met Mallory when he was looking at Kentucky Farms to stand Formal Gold, and the two became good friends.

"Edith,'' Murphy said, referring to Dan's widow, "and I were talking and I said what a wonderful tribute it would be to Dan if [Adore the Gold] went to the Derby. If you ask around about Dan Mallory, if you find anybody that said anything bad about him you tell me who he is. His integrity, his honesty, his reputation was impeccable.''

Murphy believes Adore the Gold's credentials are impeccable as well.

"I'm not an expert, but I think this horse is special,'' Murphy said. "I always say to Mikey, 'I haven't seen anything that's better than ours.' None of them have the Beyers we got - whether we got them at Delaware or we got them here or we got them in a shorter race, we got them. The horse has run exceptionally well.''

Murphy expects another exceptional performance in the Fountain of Youth.

"I guarantee they'll know he's in there,'' Murphy said.