05/03/2005 11:00PM

Cascio chases the money with Gold Storm

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There awaits the spine-tingling buzz of running a horse before thousands of mint julep-sodden fans on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs. There is also the chance to test the horse against an excellent field of Grade 2 sprinters. But for trainer Bubba Cascio, the reason for sending Gold Storm to the Churchill Downs Handicap on Saturday in Louisville instead of waiting for the Ford Express Stakes at Lone Star comes down to that great motivator - money.

"It's $200,000 there versus $75,000 here," Cascio said Wednesday morning.

Of course, there is a little more to it than that. For starters, Gold Storm is a good horse, one deserving of an appearance on Derby Day. He finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but had a trip that was less than ideal and was beaten only four lengths. Gold Storm's two starts this year, both at Fair Grounds, were exceptional, and on April 21 at Lone Star, he turned in a half-mile work in an impressive time of 44.80 seconds.

"Someone called and told me they'd caught the horse in 45, and I said, 'You got to be nuts,' " said Cascio.

Nine days later, Gold Storm was back bulleting again, this time working five furlongs in 59.60 seconds. It was enough to convince Cascio to ship Gold Storm north. The horse got on a van early Monday morning and arrived at Churchill late in the afternoon.

"We want to see if we can get this horse to go seven-eighths of a mile," Cascio said.

E.J. Perrodin, who rode Gold Storm in both Fair Grounds wins, will be back aboard again Saturday.

General Charley keeps improving

General Charley has steadily progressed through the five starts of his 3-year-old season and displayed the extent of his improvement with a 3 1/4-length win in the $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes on Saturday afternoon. General Charley, bred and owned by the Stonerside Stable, went straight to the front and stayed there in the Stallion Stakes, drawing off in the stretch after setting a fast pace while running 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.76, good for a career-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I was surprised with the way he did it," said trainer Mike Stidham. "There was a bunch of speed in the race, but he went to the lead pretty easy and just kind of cruised around there."

Earlier in the year, General Charley had finished second in a pair of Texas-bred stakes at Sam Houston, but those races weren't in the same category as his performance Saturday.

"His two works at Lone Star were a pretty good indicator that he was doing really well," Stidham said. "He ran in the afternoon like he had in the morning."

General Charley won easily enough that his connections will consider a return run in the Lone Star Derby on May 14.

"It's not our style to come back so quick, but we're going to take a look at it," said Stidham.

Turf sprints lack clearcut pick

Two entry-level turf-sprint allowance races - one for females, the other for males - are featured on the Friday night card.

And neither is easy to decipher.

Expecting Sugar might be favored in the seventh race, but she has won only twice in 24 career starts. She looks like a better horse on dirt, so the pick to pull a mild upset is I'm a Royal Pain. I'm a Royal Pain has never raced on grass, but has speed and the rail and has won before at the five-furlong distance of Friday's race.

In the ninth, leading trainer Steve Asmussen starts Day of the Cat, who should contend in his return to turf racing after trying dirt for the first time in his U.S. debut. Day of the Cat had been out of action about two years before that race and showed at least moderate talent when he raced in Ireland during the summer of 2003.

Trainer Bruce Jackson sends out a comeback horse of his own, Southern Militia, who appeared to improve when tried on turf for the first time last November at Hollywood Park. Jackson has two wins and a second from his first three starters at this meet.