03/01/2007 12:00AM

Nobiz Like Shobiz tries to stay on top


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The leading contenders for Saturday's $350,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park all come into the important Kentucky Derby prep with the same goal, but each has a different agenda.

For odds-on favorite Nobiz Like Shobiz, the Fountain of Youth provides another opportunity to affirm his position atop the 3-year-old division and is the second carefully planned step on his road to the Derby. For Drums of Thunder and Scat Daddy, the Fountain of Youth is a chance to avenge their recent setbacks at the hands of Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Holy Bull Stakes. California invader Stormello has a golden opportunity to move higher in the pecking order of Derby contenders and strike a significant blow for the 3-year-old division on the West Coast, while Swale winner Adore the Gold will attempt to prove he is better than many experts are giving him credit for.

The Fountain of Youth is one of four Grade 2 stakes on Saturday's card, which also includes the Hutcheson, Gulfstream Park Handicap, and Richter Scale Handicap.

Nobiz Like Shobiz confirmed the notion that he is top dog in the division with his professional 1 1/2-length victory over Drums of Thunder four weeks ago in the Holy Bull. The win was the third in four starts for Nobiz Like Shobiz, a son of Albert the Great who suffered his only setback at the hands of Scat Daddy in the Grade 1 Champagne.

Trainer Barclay Tagg has had Nobiz Like Shobiz on a very specific timetable this winter - one designed to get his grand-looking colt to peak on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

"I think he's coming into this race just right," said Tagg, who trains Nobiz Like Shobiz for Elizabeth Valando. "He's got a nice mile race under his belt and three good works since that race. So I don't see any reason not to feel real comfortable with him coming into this one."

Nobiz Like Shobiz had his final major prep for the Fountain of Youth on Thursday, going an easy half-mile in 47.81 seconds under regular rider Cornelio Velasquez.

"I don't have to tell Cornelio the strategy, which is to win if he can but not beat the horse up to do it," said Tagg. "If I had my wish list at the moment it would be to win this race easily, the Wood easily, and the Kentucky Derby easily."

Drums of Thunder and Scat Daddy finished second and third behind Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Holy Bull, and trainers Bill Kaplan and Todd Pletcher are quietly confident that their horses can find the little something extra needed to turn the tables on Saturday.

"My horse seems to be improving with every start since we stretched him out," Kaplan said of Drums of Thunder. "We were three or four wide in the Holy Bull, and that translates to a loss of four or five lengths, which was a lot further than we got beat by the winner that day."

Scat Daddy holds the distinction of being the only horse to finish in front of Nobiz Like Shobiz.

"We've beaten him before, and our plan is to gradually build on his campaign to peak on the right day," said Pletcher, who will also send out Meritocracy in the Fountain of Youth. "I think he'll run an improved race Saturday without going over the top, and even though he's never won at a mile and one-eighth, I don't think the distance will be an issue."

Stormello has not started since closing out his 2-year-old campaign with a victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. Trainer Bill Currin had to go to great lengths to make travel arrangements from the West Coast for Stormello, who finally arrived late Wednesday evening following an arduous 14-hour journey.

"He had a trip from hell," said Currin, shortly after his own arrival in south Florida on Thursday. "If he doesn't run well, I've already got my excuse. But I think he'll be all right."

Currin could have taken the easy way out and stayed home to run Stormello on Saturday in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, but he was eager to take on Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Fountain of Youth.

"I have a little of this East Coast-West Coast bias and the only way to get rid of it is put my star on the road and bring him here and beat the best," said Currin.

Adore the Gold has won 4 of his 5 career starts, including the Grade 2 Swale Stakes here on Feb. 3, but was a soundly beaten fifth last fall in the Grade 3 Nashua. He will break from post 9 in the nine-horse field.

"Drawing outside will force our hand a little bit, but I think he'll run a good race," said trainer Mike Gorham. "This is a big test for him, and he'll certainly have to show something to move on."