12/28/2007 12:00AM

Storm Military ready to rise

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - A victory by Storm Military in the Grade 2 San Gabriel Handicap on Sunday at Santa Anita would cast serious doubt on the form established during the rich Turf Festival last month at Hollywood Park.

Six grass horses entered the San Gabriel, including four that ran well recently in Grade 1 races at Hollywood - Hollywood Derby one-two finishers Daytona and Medici Code, and Citation Handicap one-three finishers Lang Field and Proudinsky.

But the most likely winner of the 1o1/8-mile San Gabriel is up-and-comer Storm Military, possibly the best turf horse in California who did not compete in a Turf Festival stakes.

Although the $150,000 San Gabriel purse pales relative to the richer purses of the Derby and Citation, it drew a surprisingly strong field in which five of the six runners have a legitimate shot - including Storm Military, who will be racing for the first time in a graded U.S. stakes race.

Storm Military was imported from Argentina, and finished second in his U.S. debut Oct. 13 for Bobby Frankel, while defeating subsequent Citation winner Lang Field. Instead of waiting for the Citation on Nov. 23, Storm Military won a Nov. 17 classified allowance race by two lengths.

Storm Military has won 7 of 11 overall, including two Group 1 races in Argentina, and will be ridden by Garrett Gomez. Having already defeated Lang Field, who subsequently defeated the Frankel-trained Proudinsky in the Citation, the main threats to Storm Military are derby one-two finishers Daytona and Medici Code.

"I don't think there is any dominance shown by anything but the

3-year-olds," said Medici Code's trainer, Darrell Vienna. And he is right that Daytona and Medici Code are consistent and reliable. Is either good enough to compete with older horses? The San Gabriel will answer the question.

Medici Code finished an unlucky second in the Hollywood Derby, rallying from ninth to second while compromised by a slow pace. Jockey Martin Pedroza said, "I think we can turn the tables this time. I'm not going to let them get away."

Bill and Donna Herrick own Medici Code, whose Grade 2 wins this summer came in the Del Mar Derby and La Jolla Handicap. Medici Code has won 4 of 12 starts overall. Vienna said the $300,000 Strub Stakes on the main track Feb. 2 is "under consideration" pending Medici Code's effort Sunday, and subsequent main-track workouts.

The Strub, for 4-year-olds of 2008, might also be the target for Daytona, who benefited from a soft trip winning the Hollywood Derby in gate-to-wire fashion.

"Maybe we'll get a nice pace again, set it ourselves, and smoke them," trainer Dan Hendricks said.

Daytona has won 4 of 10 starts, and could get another lonely lead under Mike Smith because his only apparent pace rival - the formerly one-dimensional Lang Field - is now harnessing his speed.

Lang Field was a $30,000 claim in July 2006 at Churchill Downs by South Africa resident Nigel Shields, and the gelding's transformation became complete last out when he scored an 18-1 Citation upset for trainer Art Sherman.

"He is older and starting to relax," Sherman said. "Before, he wanted to stampede to the lead."

Lang Field needs to be covered up early, a scenario that puts Daytona on a clear lead. Jon Court rides Lang Field, who is under consideration for the Dubai World Cup program pending his San Gabriel effort.

Proudinsky finished three-quarters of a length behind Lang Field in the Citation, while compromised by a wide trip.

East Coast invader Sensational Humor is a second-level allowance winner from Aqueduct who will start as the longest shot in the field.