03/27/2007 12:00AM

Look past Florida for Derby winner


LAS VEGAS - Without a doubt, the most fascinating Kentucky Derby preps this year will be the Wood Memorial and Blue Grass stakes. The Wood Memorial will feature four major players - Circular Quay, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Cowtown Cat, and Summer Doldrums - while the Blue Grass will be a showdown among last year's juvenile champion, Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Hard Spun, and Great Hunter.

The Florida Derby, which Barbaro used last year as his final prep before dazzling in the Kentucky Derby, features some quality individuals but none of them has the cachet of the runners heading for the Wood and Blue Grass.

Scat Daddy, Stormello, and Notional headline the Florida Derby, and the trio should put on an entertaining show. Scat Daddy is the best runner from the first crop of Johannesburg, who was one of the most impressive 2-year-old champions in racing history. His Group 1 and Grade 1 victories in England, France, Ireland, and the United States, on turf and dirt, were unprecedented and garnered championships in four countries.

Scat Daddy was a very good 2-year-old, winning the Champagne and Sanford stakes and finishing second in the Hopeful Stakes. He was a distant fourth to Street Sense in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but within five lengths of Circular Quay and Great Hunter, who finished second and third. Scat Daddy was third in the Holy Bull, his 3-year-old debut, but rebounded to capture the Fountain of Youth.

Trainer Bill Currin will ship Stormello 3,000 miles for the second time for a rematch with Scat Daddy, who narrowly defeated Stormello in the Fountain of Youth. But defeating Scat Daddy will prove little. If Stormello stayed home, he would be a standout in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, which is coming up as the year's weakest final Derby prep.

Stormello is by Stormy Atlantic, a royally bred son of Storm Cat whose third dam is undefeated 2-year-old filly champion and co-Horse of the Year Moccasin. Most of Stormy Atlantic's runners have a decided preference for turf, such as Atlantic Ocean, Icy Atlantic, and Quite a Bride, but his offspring have also performed well on dirt, such as She Says It Best, Twice as Bad, Gators and Bears, and Stormello. Of particular interest is Stormello's second dam, who is a half-sister to Syrian Summer, the dam of Marlin.

Notional has won both his starts at 3, the San Rafael and Risen Star stakes. Stormello defeated Notional in the Hollywood Futurity last season, and they will battle for supremacy among the West Coast-based 3-year-olds. Notional's sire, In Excess, has long been a popular and successful stallion standing in California, but what makes Notional a top horse is that he has the RF (Rasmussen Factor) inbreeding pattern. The RF occurs when a horse is inbred to a superior female within five generations through different individuals. Notional is inbred to the influential female La Morlaye through her daughter Indian Call (by Warfare), the dam of Siberian Express (the sire of In Excess) and through her daughter Lady Tramp (by Sensitivo), Notional's third dam.

The longshot Boogie Boggs does not have the stakes credentials of the top three, but the Nick Zito-trained colt is lightly raced and has shown promise. By Dixie Union, he is out of a Holy Bull mare who happens to be a full sister to stakes winner Estimraar and a half-sister to Florida Derby winner High Fly, a horse Zito also trained.

Chelokee ran a visually stunning race in a nine-furlong allowance on the Fountain of Youth undercard. By sprinter-miler Cherokee Run, Chelokee is out of the Silver Ghost mare Dixie Ghost, also the dam of Mymich, winner of the Flawlessy Stakes and third in the Schuylerville. His second dam, Mississippi Dixie, is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Dismasted. Chelokee has looked quite comfortable at nine furlongs and could be a sleeper in here, but would be highly questionable going 1 1/4 miles.

Swale Stakes winner Adore the Gold sizzled in a five-furlong workout earlier this week and once again will be a pace factor, as he was finishing fourth in the Fountain of Youth. His presence ensures Stormello will have company on the front end, which should set up the race nicely for both Scat Daddy and Notional.