09/25/2003 11:00PM

Chance to erase Million bad memories


ARCADIA, Calif. - In the wrong fashion, Storming Home introduced himself to the American sporting public in August when he veered out sharply in the final strides of the Arlington Million and unseated jockey Gary Stevens.

The incident made national news because Stevens, a star in the movie "Seabiscuit," suffered a collapsed lung that left him sidelined for nearly three weeks.

Storming Home was disqualified from first to fourth, his first loss in the United States after two stakes wins at Hollywood Park in the spring.

Sunday, on the opening day of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, Storming Home returns in the $250,000 Clement Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship. The race is a vital prep for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

A win on Sunday by Storming Home would help erase the memory of the Arlington Million incident and confirm his status as the top American-based hope for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The mere presence of Storming Home has scared off most of the competition for Sunday's Grade 1 race. The Hirsch drew only five runners, including Irish Warrior, the winner of the Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 31, and Johar, the winner of the San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf here last January. Trainer Bobby Frankel has entered Continuously and Mont Saint Michel, who will be longer shots.

The race lacks a front-runner. All five are best as stalkers or closers.

Since the Arlington Million, trainer Neil Drysdale said Storming Home has not shown any erratic behavior in training. He emphasized that the Arlington Million spill was an isolated incident.

"He spooked from something at the wire," he said. "He wasn't trying to do something malicious. He was frightened by something."

Owned by Gainsborough Farm, Storming Home has improved remarkably since arriving from England last December. Although he did win the Champion Stakes at Newmarket, England, last October in an upset, that Group 1 race was his only major stakes win of 2002.

Storming Home began his California campaign with a two-length win in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap over 1 1/2 miles in May. A month later, he shortened up to 1 1/4 miles in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Handicap and won by three-quarters of a length despite a wide trip.

"I've been happy with his progress," Drysdale said.

The connections of Irish Warrior and Johar have Breeders' Cup Turf aspirations, but need to see successful performances on Sunday to continue with those plans.

Irish Warrior, who could be closer to the front than usual because of the race's lack of speed, won his first stakes in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf.

Johar suffered a stress fracture in a shoulder after he scored his third consecutive stakes win in the San Marcos Stakes. Last fall, he won the Oak Tree and Hollywood derbies.

Johar returned in the Harry Brubaker Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 22, and finished last in a three-horse field, losing to Sarafan by 1 1/4 lengths. The loss did not discourage trainer Richard Mandella, who expects a big performance on Sunday.

"I want to see a good race," Mandella said, "but he doesn't have to win."