06/12/2003 12:00AM

Storming Home hasn't stumbled

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Storming Home arrived from England last winter with a reputation as a threat in the major turf stakes at 1 1/4 miles and beyond. So far, he has met all expectations.

The 5-year-old Storming Home won his U.S. debut in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap last month and will be a strong favorite to win his second stakes of the year in the $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park.

If Storming Home repeats his last race, he will only solidify his position as the top turf distance horse in the nation.

The Whittingham is the first of three graded stakes on Saturday's program, followed by the $200,000 Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks for 3-year-old fillies and the $400,000 Californian Stakes for older horses. The Whittingham is the third race and will not be part of the pick six, largely because of Storming Home, the 124-pound topweight.

The distance is one of the few differences for Storming Home in the Whittingham. The Murray was run over 1 1/2 miles on turf and was Storming Home's first start in nearly six months. The Whittingham may be a shorter trip, but that is not a concern for trainer Neil Drysdale.

"I don't think it matters," Drysdale said. "He relaxes well and switches off well."

Drysdale's assessment of Storming Home's style is bad news for the connections of the other five horses entered in the Grade 1 Whittingham. Even if Mister Acpen and Night Patrol are effective on the lead, Blue Steller and Gigli are best as stalkers, and Cagney is a danger from the back, it will mean little if Storming Home shows his best form.

Blue Steller is trainer Bobby Frankel's hope. A 5-year-old, Blue Steller has been training at Belmont Park in recent weeks. Night Patrol is capable of a surprise, having finished second in the 2002 Whittingham.

Cagney and Gigli are trained by Richard Mandella and will race as an entry owned by TNT Stud. Cagney was ninth in the 2002 Whittingham and is winless in seven starts since the 2001 Carleton Burke Handicap at Santa Anita.

Gigli was a Group 1 winner in Brazil last June, and in his U.S. debut he ran second to Mister Acpen in an allowance race over 1 1/8 miles on turf on May 21. Cagney was fourth in the same race.

"He'd probably like a bigger field with a hot pace," Mandella said of Cagney. "He's sort of an old hound dog. He's just too friendly. He needs to be meaner."

Gigli is considered the stronger half of the entry. He can lay close to Mister Acpen and Night Patrol and could be in front of Storming Home - at least until the field reaches the backstretch.

"The pace wouldn't hurt Gigli because he's handy," Mandella said. "I think he'd improve a lot with the run."

Even so, it may not be enough to beat Storming Home, an exciting new addition to the distance turf division.