02/01/2005 12:00AM

Hot Storm saves day for heralded locals

The Beyer-challenged Hot Storm wins the Sunshine Million Oaks at 21-1.

NEW ORLEANS - Several horses stabled at Fair Grounds shipped to Santa Anita last weekend with unexpected results, both good and bad. The outstanding turf horse G P Fleet, trained by Steve Flint, turned in a surprisingly sour performance Saturday in the Sunshine Millions Turf, and Tamweel, trained by Tom Amoss, ran poorly in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap on Sunday, her first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Dallas Stewart did not make the trip out West, but he did watch Hot Storm, a filly that he trains, blitz the field in the Sunshine Millions Oaks at 21-1. Stewart knows why Hot Storm was overlooked in the betting. "They said she didn't have the Beyer numbers to win," he said.

Hot Storm got a 91 Beyer for her Oaks win. Her previous high was 78.

Off-the-turf call benefits Straw Hat

Stewart was forced to scratch the sharp turf filly Cape Hope from the Black Gold Handicap at Fair Grounds on Saturday when the race was washed off the turf. "You have to do what's best for the horse," he said.

Meanwhile, trainer Neil Howard was glad the Black Gold, for 3-year-olds, was switched from 7 1/2 furlongs on turf to a mile on the dirt because he thought the 7 1/2 furlongs might be short of the best distance for his charge Straw Hat. And, thanks to the surface switch he didn't have to face Cape Hope.

"We were a little concerned with [Cape Hope]," said Howard.

Straw Hat won the race, and the victory was the fifth stakes win at the meet for the combination of Howard and jockey Robby Albarado. Albarado has won five riding titles at Fair Grounds, but this was his first victory in the Black Gold. After the race Albarado placed a bouquet of roses on Black Gold's infield grave in a touching Fair Grounds tradition.

Rider suffers equipment malfunction

The Fair Grounds railbirds were up in arms after 1-2 shot Chelsey's Bid blew a three-length lead in the final yards of Sunday's fourth race under Carlos Marquez and was caught by Prime Queen. Marquez showed plenty of courage after the race, watching the replay from the paddock as fans hooted and yelled at him. Marquez later explained that the tongue of the belt buckle holding his stirrups snapped off, preventing him from riding the horse in the final yards.

"Three jumps before the wire I realized something had happened," he said. "I put my weight on the stirrup and it slipped. If I had won the race it wouldn't have mattered, but I got caught and the horse was the favorite. We don't need that in racing. It looked bad."

The Fair Grounds stewards consulted with Marquez Monday but did not issue a ruling.

"I had a meeting with them for an hour," said Marquez. A decision on whether Marquez would be penalized was expected on Thursday.

Soul Search delivers for Howard

Howard sent out a high-quality 3-year-old filly on Sunday - Soul Search, who won a maiden special weight at 1 1/16 miles, rallying from far back early to win by better than four lengths in 1:46.63.

"This is a filly we were kind of optimistic about," said Howard of Soul Search, a daughter of A.P. Indy and the Pleasant Colony mare Solar Colony. "Her mother broke her maiden on dirt first time out."

Soul Search was trying the main track for the first time after debuting on the grass, where she finished seventh in a race that helped her conditioning.

"I thought she would have handled the grass better," said Howard, "but like a lot of A.P. Indys she doesn't really work fast in the mornings. As it turned out that race was a good tightener for her."

Howard doesn't have a specific plan for Soul Search beyond looking for an allowance spot. After losing both Patriot Act and Midway Road to injury in a little over a week, Howard's reticence to look too far ahead is understandable.

"I think she would relish a 1 1/8-mile distance," he said.