10/10/2006 12:00AM

He may be green, but he's good

Email

ARCADIA, Calif. - Once the votes were in and all the dust had settled - artificial and otherwise - the most entertaining result of the past two weekends' worth of Breeders' Cup preparatory scrimmage was the slapstick victory of Stormello in last Sunday's Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita.

Sure, the performances of Bernardini in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Lava Man in the Goodwood Handicap were impressive. Nor were they the least bit unusual.

Aragorn yawned his way through the Oak Tree Mile, trying to lull his Breeders' Cup opposition into a sense of false hope, while Henny Hughes basically turned the Breeders' Cup Sprint into a foregone conclusion.

The Norfolk, on the other hand, was an 8 1/2-furlong food fight, complete with a bolting favorite and a brave, though ultimately doomed, front-running second choice who became a sitting duck for Stormello's creative finish. Forgive Horse Greeley for his erratic flop - he emerged with jarred ankles - and runner-up Principle Secret deserved a better fate. But those who choose to ignore the winner, just because he looked a little distracted out there, do so at their peril.

Two-year-old colts in the fall of the year are a notoriously unpredictable bunch, stimulating all manner of confusion and missed signals. This, in part, explains such recent Breeders' Cup Juvenile jawdroppers as Wilko ($58.60), Action This Day ($55.60), and Anees ($62.60).

Stormello enters the picture for this year's Juvenile with every right to make an impact on the big day at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4. If there is a domestic 2-year-old to fear, he has yet to make himself known. Even better, Stormello comes fully equipped with his own entertaining mouthpiece, Bill Currin, a droll, down-home, 70-year-old Tarheel who answers to breeder, owner, and trainer of the leggy, headstrong chestnut.

The Currin horses actually race in the name of his wife, Betty, and their friend and partner Al Eisman. Currin himself could be accused of running an indulgent, boutique operation - a reward for his success as a homebuilder in a past life - if it weren't for the fact that he seems to get such good results.

"Martin Panza's kind enough to give me my 20 stalls at the one end of the barn," Currin said, referring to the Hollywood Park racing secretary, "and I don't ever want that 21st. I only have the time, the memory, and the mind to do 20 horses. But if half of them don't look like they could be stakes winners, I move them on. That's the only way I can enjoy the game."

Nothing wrong with that. In addition to Stormello, the Currin stable currently includes the classy turf mare Memorette, the sprinter Bushwacker, and the unlucky Bashert, who was Currin's best 2-year-old of 2005 before he injured a tendon. He has yet to race this year.

"The tendon looks good, he goes to the racetrack every morning, and he absolutely looks like a piece of art," Currin said of Bashert. "I'm hoping he'll be my version of The Tin Man, because I'll stick with him for seven or eight years if I have to."

Stormello - his name sounds like a character from "The Bird Cage," or maybe one of the X-Men - is a son of the Storm Cat stallion Stormy Atlantic out of the Carson City mare Wilshewed (untangled and pronounced "Will she wed"). For those who believe in nature over nurture, Wilshewed is out of the Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Special Warmth, who in turn comes from an old California family that produced stakes horses such as Generous Portion, Guerrero, and Marketti. The Currins and Eisman bought Wilshewed for $125,000 as a Fasig-Tipton February 2-year-old sale in Florida and tried their darnedest to win a race with her for the ensuing year and a half.

"Even though she was a little light on bone, and her feet were a little smallish, she was one of the prettiest fillies I've ever seen," Currin said. "I bought her looking at a future broodmare. I told Betty, she might race and she might not."

She did, and she didn't. With Currin training and a variety of talent in the saddle - including Eddie Delahoussaye, Garrett Gomez, and Julieann Louise Krone - Wilshewed ran up 10 straight losses in straight maiden company, thereby earning a well-deserved retirement into a pregnancy that ultimately resulted in Stormello. The mother has passed on more than just good looks to her son.

"She was a little erratic through the stretch - in fact, she was gourd green," Currin said of Wilshewed. "Stormello wants to look around as well, which is why we've always had him in blinkers."

Beyond that, Currin has been content to let Stormello develop at his own pace. ("I'm in no hurry," Currin said. "I've got my rent paid this month.") In the Norfolk, Kent Desormeaux was able to harness the colt's natural speed behind a breakneck pace and Stormello finished as well as any 2-year-old this year.

"He's got a lot going for him," Currin said. "And Kent's got a lot of faith in the horse. I think we might just have some fun in Louisville."