05/25/2001 11:00PM

Nasty Storm wins Dogwood, giving Denny Crum a thrill

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - He has been part of wilder celebrations. But after Nasty Storm gamely held off heavily favored Love at Noon to win the $109,700 Dogwood Stakes on Saturday, Denny Crum found himself at the vortex of a chaotic tornado of joy that wound its way to the Churchill Downs winner's circle.

By capturing the Grade 3 Dogwood, Nasty Storm - owned by a partnership that includes Crum, the former University of Louisville basketball coach - reversed the form that took her to a 13th-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks three weeks earlier. Always prominent from the start of the 1 1/16-mile Dogwood, she overtook Happily Unbridled, then held off Love at Noon to win by a neck. Golly Greeley finished third, another 3 1/2 lengths back.

Nasty Storm, trained by Dallas Stewart, returned $13.80 to win as third choice in a field of seven 3-year-old fillies. It was Crum's first stakes win at Churchill as an owner.

"Turning for home, I knew it'd take something special to beat her," said winning rider Lonnie Meche.

For Nasty Storm, a Kentucky-bred Gulch filly who finished second in the Alcibiades and Golden Rod at 2, the Dogwood victory was her third overall and first in a stakes. She finished in 1:43.41 over a fast track.

Love at Noon, the 1-2 favorite, had set the Churchill record for 6 1/2 furlongs in her previous start. The Dogwood was just her third career start and first at a route.

Love at Noon came up short despite a good trip and aggressive ride under Pat Day. Trainer Bob Baffert, who very seldom employs Day, joked afterward that "we're still oh-fer together, I guess."

Day had ridden Nasty Storm in five of her nine previous starts, including the Oaks.

* In other action Saturday, Day rode four winners, getting him to within four of the coveted 8,000-win milestone. Day was scheduled to ride at Churchill Sunday and at Belmont Monday.