10/25/2004 12:00AM

Storm Flag Flying eyes unique feat


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Parting will be such sweet sorrow for those who have been associated for the past three years with the filly Storm Flag Flying. She was a champion at age 2, regressed last year at age 3, but has come back with an excellent campaign this year, one which could lead to another championship should she capture the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff on Saturday at Lone Star Park.

The Distaff will be the final career start for Storm Flag Flying, and it could be a record-setting one. If Storm Flag Flying wins, she will become the first horse to win two different Breeders' Cup races. She captured the Juvenile Fillies at Arlington Park in 2002.

On Monday morning at Lone Star, Storm Flag Flying was settling in to her stall in Barn B3 after arriving Sunday afternoon. Buzzy Tenney, the top assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey, stood a few feet away, feeling melancholy about the upcoming final start.

"This is it. She's going to Claiborne Farm after this," Tenney said.

His disappointment over Storm Flag Flying's imminent retirement was tempered by the knowledge that she could have been retired a year ago. But McGaughey and owner Ogden Mills Phipps decided to go on with Storm Flag Flying, even though she had raced just twice, without winning, last year.

"Most people would have turned her out and bred her," Tenney said. "This should show everybody how much love for racing the Phipps family has. She was a 2-year-old champion. She didn't have to anything to prove. It's a great credit that they kept her in training."

That decision proved well-founded. Storm Flag Flying has won three times in seven starts this year, including an upset victory over Azeri in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap. That race had particular significance, being as it is named for Storm Flag Flying's granddam.

Storm Flag Flying completed her serious training for the Distaff on Sunday morning at Belmont Park, when she worked a half-mile in 48.22 seconds. She traveled that afternoon, in contrast to 2002, when she shipped to Arlington just two days before the Juvenile Fillies.

"When she was a 2-year-old, I went right on top of the race because I didn't know what was going to happen," McGaughey said. "This time, she's fine. I can get her down there, get her acclimated. I'll probably school her in the paddock on Wednesday."

Storm Flag Flying most recently finished third behind Sightseek and Society Selection in the Beldame Stakes on Oct. 9. In the Distaff, she will be ridden for the first time by Jerry Bailey, because her regular rider, John Velazquez, has chosen Ashado.

"She's done exceptionally well since her last race. Her breeze was as good as she could do," McGaughey said. "If she ships fine, I think she'll have the opportunity to run her race. Little change of scenery racetrack-wise, jockey-wise might be good for her.''

Also working on Sunday were Ashado (five furlongs at Belmont Park, 59.83 seconds), Elloluv (six furlongs at Hollywood Park, 1:11.40), Island Fashion (five furlongs at Santa Anita, 1:00.60), and Stellar Jayne (five furlongs at Churchill Downs, 1:01.60).

Frank Kirby, the trainer of Bare Necessities, on Monday said that Jose Valdivia Jr. would ride his mare in the Distaff.

The Distaff field is expected to be Ashado (Velazquez the rider), Bare Necessities (Valdivia), Elloluv (Corey Nakatani), Hollywood Story (Tyler Baze), Indy Groove (Mark Guidry), Island Fashion (Kerwin John), Nebraska Tornado (undecided), Society Selection (Cornelio Velasquez), Stellar Jayne (Robby Albarado), Storm Flag Flying (Bailey), Tamweel (Rene Douglas), and possibly Azeri (Pat Day), who will run either here or in the Classic.

- additional reporting by David Grening