02/25/2005 12:00AM

Storm the Beach super since claim

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Humor at Last could earn a shot at the Illinois Derby if he runs well in the Flag Officer.

STICKNEY, Ill. - There are horses who scarcely want to get out of bed in the morning. They shamble around the barn, and have to be pushed to go through their paces if daily training requires anything more than a routine gallop.

Then there is Storm the Beach.

Is there a better work horse at Hawthorne Race Course?

"I don't think so," said Jimmy DiVito, Storm the Beach's trainer. "He's very aggressive out there."

And not just in his workouts. Claimed for $10,000 last July out of a sixth-place finish in a nonwinners-of-two race, Storm the Beach went on to win 4 of 7 starts for DiVito and owner Robert Neumeyer.

These were not narrow scores over cheap horses. Storm the Beach stormed through his two Illinois-bred allowance conditions, finished a close fourth in a $100,000 stakes, and concluded his season with a romp in a open optional-claiming race here at Hawthorne.

It gets better. Because Storm the Beach ran for the $35,000 claiming tag in that win, he remains eligible for a third-level allowance, and it is under that condition that Storm the Beach makes his 2005 debut on Sunday at Hawthorne. Nine others were entered in the featured eighth, four of them for the claiming price, but they are running for second if Storm the Beach runs to his recent local workouts.

Storm the Beach got a two-month mid-winter break, and he has worked four times since. Two works were bullets, five furlongs in 59 seconds and five furlongs in 58.20; the other two were among the fastest of each day.

"He's doing that stuff on his own," DiVito said.

DiVito noted that when jockey Emmanuel Cosme breezes Storm the Beach, "he takes a hold, but he still goes fast."

Storm the Beach's lone poor race here last season came at 6 1/2 furlongs, and DiVito believes the horse "doesn't want to go a step past three-quarters."

In the first three races opening day, the Hawthorne racing surface appeared to play to speed, bad news for the others in the Sunday feature. Among them is Hawthorne specialist Lil Thomas Too, who has two recent bullet works himself; and Iceplosion, three times second at this class level here last season.

Humor at Last eyes Flag Officer

Humor at Last, one of the top Illinois-bred 3-year-olds, has shipped to Hawthorne, and is likely to make his next start here March 12 in the Flag Officer, an overnight stakes. A decent showing there could land Humor at Last a spot in the Illinois Derby, according to trainer Tony Mitchell.

Humor at Last easily won the first two races of his career last fall, but was beaten as the favorite in the Jim Edgar Futurity, his first attempt in a route race. But Humor at Last might have been compromised by a fast pace that start, and made a promising move from off the pace when he finished third last weekend in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, his first start of the season.

The colt who beat out Humor at Last for champion Illinois-bred 2-year-old of 2004, Win Me Over, remains stabled in south Florida with trainer Harvey Vanier, and is almost certain to get his season started in a race at Gulfstream Park.

Filly division lacks a leader

There is a hole at the top of the Illinois-bred 3-year-old filly division, with Toll Taker, the 2004 2-year-old champion, stabled on the East Coast with trainer Tim Hills, and Bluesbdancing, the top statebred juvenile filly stabled in Illinois last year, out of action until later in the year. That leaves Meadow Bride, stabled at Hawthorne with trainer Richard Hazelton, the default leader for the early season races. But the first statebred stakes of the year does not come up until April 30.

Toll Taker made one trip to Illinois last season, but dumped her rider at the start of the Showtime Deb Stakes last Nov. 13. She is scheduled to run this weekend in an open stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs, and for now, Hills plans to give Toll Taker a chance in graded route races.

"We're going see if she's in that class," Hills said. "If not, we'll look at the statebred races."

Bluesbdancing wound up winning the Showtime Deb, but lost her season finale in an open stakes Dec. 11 at Charles Town. Bluesbdancing is housed in trainer Terry Gore's Hawthorne barn, but is currently out of training.

"She's going on a little vacation," Gore said. "We're looking at the long run with her."