Updated on 09/17/2011 11:11AM

Imported treasure

"He's a very inquisitive and intelligent horse. He's full of life and he likesto have fun. . . . He has his quirks." - Neil Drysdale, on Storming Home

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Telephone calls comprise the very fabric of a horse trainer's existence. Most are routine, but last fall Neil Drysdale got a fairly interesting one from England. Storming Home, a fine English-based stakes horse, was being considered for a switch to North American racing.

"I was contacted prior to the Champion Stakes, and it was mentioned there was talk about sending him over here," Drysdale said.

The Champion Stakes is a Group 1 race at Newmarket, and when Storming Home won it by a half-length over the top horse Moon Ballad, that phone call became even more significant.

Storming Home did move to Drysdale's barn in California last winter, becoming one of the rare European Group 1 winners to relocate across the Atlantic. Two races later, he has become the leading grass horse in the country.

His status can be further confirmed Saturday in the Arlington Million, where Storming Home might be favored over Godolphin's European star Sulamani. The two have close ties. Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, is part of the Godolphin consortium, but he bred Storming Home at his Gainsborough Stud in England and runs the horse under his banner.

In fact, he is the best horse Maktoum has campaigned in the U.S, according to Joe Mercer, Gainsborough Stud's racing manager and the man on the other end of Drysdale's phone call last fall.

"He seemed like the right type of horse to send," Mercer said this week, reached by phone in his London office. "He was losing his form in the middle of each year. We couldn't find any rhyme or reason for it."

Storming Home had his Group 1 win, but he was inconsistent. Overseas, he won five times, but also had been 15th, seventh, sixth, and twice ninth in 19 starts. Storming Home, it turns out, is a bit of a character. Take this: Mercer blamed Storming Home's poor race in last year's Japan Cup on paint-colored stable ponies.

"I don't think he'd ever seen a horse like that," Mercer said. "He went quite gay over them."

Rather than cave in to Storming Home's erratic tendencies, Mercer tackled them head on.

Storming Home had a problem paying attention around a few other horses during laid-back English training? Fine. They would put his feet to the fire. Mercer theorized that rather than blow Storming Home's mind, the frenzied rhythms of American racetrack training would help him focus.

"A change in scenery, a change in training tactics can do some horses a lot of good," Mercer said.

Storming Home is a pussycat compared to Labeeb, another European that Gainsborough sent to Drysdale. Labeeb got into the unfortunate habit of propping in the middle of his races. There have been no such antics with Storming Home, though Drysdale concedes the horse has personality.

"He's a very inquisitive and intelligent horse," Drysdale said. "He's full of life and he likes to have fun. He'll be galloping along or cantering along, and he'll buck or kick. He has his quirks."

Drysdale has a knack for translating these energies into wins. Recall that Fusaichi Pegasus used to draw crowds during eventful morning gallops. Then he won the Kentucky Derby.

Such tales frame the Drysdale mystique. A season does not pass without rumors of stardom radiating from his compact stable. Sunday Break had 3-year-old cachet two seasons ago. This year, it was Ministers Wild Cat. Those two didn't pan out, but they are exceptions. After a failed run at the 2000 Derby with War Chant, Drysdale targeted the Breeders' Cup Mile with him, and won it. He passed the Kentucky Derby with A.P. Indy when the horse bruised his foot, and won the Belmont and the Breeders' Cup instead.

Drysdale stoutly resists talk of his career, much less his reputation. Those fall into the realm of the "subjective." Drysdale works in "facts." "Ask me yes or no questions," he said, half-joking, during an interview.

But there are good reasons his triumphs have ranged over so many years, and with so many different types of horses. The trainer Laura de Seroux went to work for Charlie Whittingham the year Drysdale left as Whittingham's assistant. Lauded for her patient and precise handling of the champion mare Azeri, de Seroux said this is part of the Whittingham school.

"It's very, very important to both Neil and I to give horses the proper time and individual attention," de Seroux said. "You deal with every little thing before it becomes a problem. That's why Neil will hold horses out of a race. He's very competitive, but he needs everything to be right. He's uncanny with knowing when to give attention to something that's seemingly minor."

So far, Storming Home has avoided such problems. "We set out a schedule in the beginning of the year, and he's been able to stick to it," Drysdale said.

There was another, more concrete reason Mercer sent Storming Home overseas: the Grade 1 American turf races seemed weak last season. Storming Home has filled a void at the top, and he is getting stronger.

"I don't think he was at his best in the Whittingham," Drysdale said. "He's getting better and more comfortable."

And those, one presumes, are the facts.