06/05/2003 11:00PM

Storm Flag favored facing elders

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MIAMI - The filly Storm Flag, one of the fastest 3-year-olds of either sex to race here in recent memory, will take on older horses for the first time as the likely favorite in Sunday's $40,000 Toga Toga Handicap at Calder.

Storm Flag will be turning back to 5 1/2 furlongs for the Toga Toga and at that distance is the one to beat despite the fact she will be facing a field of older and vastly more experienced rivals. The group includes stakes winners Petrina Above, Tchula Miss, and Vague Memory, as well as the extremely quick How About It.

Storm Flag ran fractions of 21.38 seconds, 43.85, and 56.75 for the opening quarter-mile, half-mile, and five furlongs while under a rating hold from jockey Gary Boulanger in her stakes debut in the six-furlong Supah Jess on May 12. She eventually shortened stride in the final eighth of a mile and lost a neck decision to Crafty Brat, who has handed Storm Flag her only two defeats in five career starts.

Trainer Richard Root is hoping to use the Toga Toga as a stepping-stone for Storm Flag to the Grade 3, $300,000 Azalea Stakes here on July 12.

Petrina Above is a versatile sort who has proven her mettle on both turf and dirt. The 8-year-old Petrina Above comes into the Toga Toga off victories in the Bob Slater and Cool Air stakes on the grass. She was also victorious in her only recent try over the main track, running down odds-on favorite Flying Birdie in the final stride to win a five-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 8.

How About It brings a three-race win streak into the Toga Toga, although she has not started since outlasting a field of second-level allowance rivals at Gulfstream on March 7. How About It has been working well for owner-trainer Happy Alter in preparation for her return but may have to prove she can win without the lead if headed early, as expected, by Storm Flag. All five of her victories have come in wire-to-wire fashion.

Stallion Stakes lands 880 nominees

Final nominations for the $1.2 million 2003 Florida Stallion Stakes have closed with 880 2-year-olds eligible for the series that begins Aug. 9. The group includes Chapel Royal, decisive winner of Friday's Flash Stakes at Belmont Park.

The Stallion Series is restricted to the offspring of nominated stallions standing in Florida in 2000 and kept eligible through a series of payments as weanlings, yearlings, and 2-year-olds. This marks the 22nd consecutive year for the Stallion Stakes, which concludes with the tradition-rich In Reality and My Dear Girl stakes, main races on Calder's Festival of the Sun. The big event will be held on Oct. 11 this year.

Chapel Royal, purchased for a record $1.2 million by Michael Tabor at the February OBS Sale, is one of 29 juveniles by Ocala Stud's Montbrook eligible for the 2003 Stallion Stakes.