Updated on 09/17/2011 10:56AM

That old feeling

Jean Raftery/Turfotos
Storm Flag wins the Toga Toga at Calder, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. On Saturday, she will run in the Azalea Stakes for trainer Richard Root.

MIAMI - Storm Flag is a freakishly fast 3-year-old filly who many feel has the best chance of any of the locals to capture one of the four graded stakes on Saturday's $1.75 million Summit of Speed program at Calder. Her emergence as a stakes horse is also giving her trainer, Richard Root, a chance to relive some of the glory days when his stable was among the biggest and best at Calder.

Storm Flag, who will be among the favorites in the Grade 3, $300,000 Azalea Stakes, appeared anything but a potential graded stakes winner when she first came to Root as a 2-year-old in the spring of 2002. Purchased by her owner, Joseph Raffa, for $9,500 out of the August 2001 Ocala Breeders' yearling sales, Storm Flag had chronic foot problems and could barely break 53 seconds for a half-mile when she first began training, according to Root.

As a result, Root entered Storm Flag, a daughter of Mountain Cat, under a $20,000 claiming price to launch her career here last June. Sent off at 17-1 over a sloppy track, she won by 9 1/4 lengths. Four weeks later, stepping up against $50,000 claiming rivals, Storm Flag ran even faster, leading throughout to win by 6 1/2 lengths.

"It's kind of a miracle she's gotten this far considering the problems we've had with her feet," said Root. "We've popped several abscesses, really bad ones, out of both feet since she's been here. But it's all in the heart, and she's got a big one, that's for sure. Sometimes you just don't know where the good ones come from or what they can eventually accomplish. And who knows how fast this filly would be if she were 100 percent sound."

Storm Flag actually became too fast for her own good. She posted fractions of 21.20 and 44.40 seconds before getting caught by Crafty Brat when she launched her 3-year-old campaign going six furlongs this winter at Gulfstream Park. She ran even faster fractions before suffering her only other defeat, again at the hands of Crafty Brat, in Calder's Supah Jess Stakes on May 12.

"She became so speed-crazy we couldn't get her to slow down and relax," said Root. "But I got her on Lasix after she bled in the Supah Jess and also added a tongue strap to help improve her air flow. And she really turned herself around in her next start."

Storm Flag, with the new equipment in place, rated much kinder on the lead. She dominated older horses by 4 3/4 lengths in her final prep for the Azalea in the 5 1/2-furlong Toga Toga Handicap. She earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103 for that effort, far and away the best of her career.

"I don't know what to expect on Saturday," said Root. "Crafty Brat has already beat us twice, and there are some nice fillies coming to town, including Buffythecenterfold. But she's as good as we can get her right now going into the stakes. And it's sure a nice feeling having a good horse in a race like this again."

Root certainly knows what it's like to have good horses in big races like the Azalea. During his heyday in the 1980's, when he trained for the powerful stable of owner-breeder Harry Mangurian, Root had a barn full of stakes-caliber horses. His best included the multiple graded stakes winner Robsphere, as well as Florida Stallion Stakes winners Valid Space, Reappeal, Nany's Appeal, and Miss Running Vany.

Root is a third-generation horseman born in Louisville, Ky., in 1943. He first began working around the barn at the age of 4 when his father, Thomas F. Root Sr., was private trainer for Mangurian's Mockingbird Farm.

Richard Root came to south Florida in 1961 to attend the University of Miami and has remained here ever since. He has been a fixture on the Calder backstretch since the track opened in 1971.

"It's been a long time since I've had a really good one like this," Root said. "I bumped into Mr. Mangurian at Gulfstream when I ran Storm Flag during the winter, and I told him this filly is as good as some of the ones we had - that it feels just like the old days again."

Root said he will try to approach the Azalea as just any other race.

"I never got real high when I had a lot of success or too disappointed when I didn't do well," said Root. "And the money doesn't mean that much to me. If it did I would have done something else other than become a trainer. As long as my horse runs well and comes back good on Saturday I'll be happy."

Just like the good old days.