Updated on 09/17/2011 8:46PM

Storm Surge reaches a pivotal point

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Storm Surge hasn't scared away any competition with Beyers of 91 and 82 in his last two starts.

NEW ORLEANS - Storm Surge has run the table so far at this Fair Grounds winter meet, winning the first two legs of the four-race Louisiana Derby series, the Sugar Bowl Stakes and the Lecomte Handicap. Yet, for all he has accomplished, Storm Surge has his share of critics, and will face a full field of challengers in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 .

One reason Storm Surge has only been awarded meager respect is that his winning times have not been anything special. He covered six furlongs in 1:10.69 in the Sugar Bowl, good for a 91 Beyer Speed Figure, and went a mile in 1:39.34 in the Lecomte, earning an 82.

"We race against horses, not times," said trainer Dallas Stewart, who has brought Storm Surge along carefully to this point. "I think this colt has a lot of heart. As we turn the corner, we hope he's getting better."

The Risen Star is likely to be a defining moment for the royally bred Storm Surge, an Overbrook Farm homebred by Storm Cat out of a Mr. Prospector mare. It could be the race that finally validates his classic potential - or it could relegate him to lesser objectives.

The usually ebullient Stewart becomes serious when talk turns to Storm Surge. You can sense he doesn't want to overstate the progress Storm Surge has made. Stewart has avoided Kentucky Derby talk but is confident that the Louisiana Derby, at 1 1/16 miles, is within Storm Surge's scope.

"We've had our eyes on the Louisiana Derby for him all along," he said. "He's doing fine, and we're looking for him to step it up a notch. If we get past this race, we'll go on to the next one."

Storm Surge's jockey, Robby Albarado, has won five Fair Grounds riding titles and teamed with Stewart to win the Louisiana Derby in 1999 with Kimberlite Pipe. Albarado is convinced Storm Surge will be up to the task Saturday.

"I know the time was slow in the Lecomte," said Albarado, "but I didn't ask him for much early in the race because we wanted to teach him to relax and run behind horses. He had enough speed to outrun them through the stretch. He could have won by a wider margin if I asked him."

It helps, Albarado argues, that Stewart has been down this road before.

"Dallas knows how to get a horse ready for the Louisiana Derby," he said. "At this stage of the game, Kimberlite Pipe was nowhere near where Storm Surge is right now, and we all know what he did."

Stewart summed up the thoughts that go through every trainer's mind as his horse approaches a new challenge.

"You want your horse to continue to develop," he said. "Each race gets a bit tougher."

Steve Asmussen, who trains Lecomte runner-up Smooth Bid, echoes Stewart's assessment of the Risen Star. He changed the subject when asked if he was concerned about Storm Surge improving off the Lecomte.

"How many horses were in the Lecomte?" Asmussen asked rhetorically. (There were five.) "How many are in this race? This is going to be a much tougher field."

And, therefore, a very good test for Storm Surge.

Rush Bay returns from layoff

The new challengers in the Risen Star include the Tom Amoss-trained Rush Bay, off since finishing second in November in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. Amoss has brought Rush Bay along on workouts, climaxing with a six-furlong drill in 1:13.60 last Saturday.

"He's ready to run," said Amoss.

The horses shipping in for the stakes are topped by the Todd Pletcher-trained Harlington from Florida and Scipion, who will ship in from California for trainer Patrick Biancone.

Summerly ready for SIlverbulletday

Asmussen has sent out a series of outstanding 3-year-old fillies this winter, including five-time stakes winner Punch Appeal as well as More Moonlight and Megascape, who both have won stakes in their last two starts. But the 3-year-old Summerly, who will run in Saturday's Grade 3 Silverbulletday, may be the best in his barn. Summerly demolished an entry-level allowance field on Jan. 17 by 9 3/4 lengths.

"She could be any kind," said Asmussen of Summerly, a chestnut daughter of Summer Squall.

The Beter Man Can, impressive winner of the Tiffany Lass, is an extremely talented Louisiana-bred filly who will test Summerly's speed to its limits on Saturday. But the horse to beat may well be the Al Stall Jr.-trained Enduring Will, who just missed in the Tiffany Lass following a layoff due to a lung infection that cost her a start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Enduring Will needed the race and is coming up to the Silverbulletday in sharp form.

Neil Howard is expected to enter Private Gift, a half-sister to 2000 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status, and trainer Doug O'Neill is bringing Cee's Irish in from the West Coast, where she has won three consecutive races.