03/09/2002 1:00AM

On seventh try, success at last


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Score one for perseverance. Ground Storm, who had come away empty-handed in six previous stakes attempts - four of them as the favorite - finally grabbed the brass ring in Saturday's $109,200 Stymie Handicap at Aqueduct.

On the far turn of the 1 1/8-mile Stymie, it looked as though Ground Storm might be thwarted again, because Duckhorn, the slight 6-5 favorite among the crowd of 7,814, had disposed of longshot Flying Baron and opened a three-length lead. But Duckhorn had expended a considerable amount of energy setting fast fractions of 23.19 seconds, 46.89, and 1:10.65 under Richard Migliore, and was a tired horse by midstretch, the mile split of 1:35.92 just a tick off the track mark.

"The orders were to go to the front," said Migliore. "He is a one-paced horse with a high cruising speed, and if you try to slow him down, they're going to run over the top of you. I knew he was digging in in the stretch. He held off everyone but the winner, and the winner is no bum."

Ground Storm stalked the leader from third position before inching closer around the turn, ranged up alongside the leader just inside the eighth pole, and he and Javier Castellano met little resistance en route to a two-length triumph in the Grade 3 race.

"When he came to the top of the stretch, the leader spurted, but he kicked in nice and ran by," said Castellano.

Duckhorn, who set the pace in the Donn Handicap in his seasonal bow, held on for second by 1 1/4 lengths over Pleasant Divorce, who had the same margin on fourth-place finisher Wild Summer. The order of finish was completed by Threcoinsinfountin, Judge's Case, and Flying Baron.

Ground Storm ran the nine furlongs over a fast track in 1:48.89, and won for the third time in four starts on the inner track this winter. A 6-year-old horse by Summer Squall, Ground Storm earned $65,520 for Centennial Farms, and improved to 8 for 20 lifetime for trainer Bill Mott. He paid $4.80 as the second choice.

Assistant trainer Seth Benzel indicated that the next objective for Ground Storm could be the April 6 Excelsior Handicap, a race in which he finished sixth as the favorite last year.