06/13/2003 11:00PM

Storming Home scores as favorite

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - With the opposition tracking his every move, Storming Home proved best in Saturday's $350,000 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park.

Storming Home ($2.60) won the Grade 1 Whittingham by three-quarters of a length over Mister Acpen, but did not have an easy trip. Fifth early, Storming Home was five wide at one point on the backstretch, continued wide on the final turn but still launched a rally in early stretch that carried him to the front. Ridden by Gary Stevens for owner Sheikh Maktoum, Storming Home, the 124-pound topweight, finished 1 1/4 miles on turf in 2:00.66.

"They went 1:13 and change, he had to wait on the turn and he had the acceleration in the stretch," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "He's a very athletic horse."

Night Patrol set an early pace of 24.78 seconds for a quarter-mile and 48.91 for a half-mile, leading by as much as two lengths over Mister Acpen. The race changed on the backstretch when Blue Steller moved closer to the front, prompting Mister Acpen and Gigli to keep pace. After three quarters in 1:13.46, the first five were within a length, with Storming Home five wide.

The wide rally on the backstretch gave Drysdale a few nervous moments.

"I was hoping that Gary knew what he was doing," Drysdale said. "There were several other jockeys riding him. So, he was carrying a lot of jockeys, not just the weight."

Storming Home is perfect in two starts since arriving from England. Last month, the 5-year-old won the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf.

Mister Acpen, who had faded to third in early stretch, rallied to finish second, a half-length in front of Cagney.

Azeri works five furlongs

Azeri, the reigning Horse of the Year who is riding a nine-race winning streak, worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 Saturday at San Luis Rey Downs training center. The 5-year-old Azeri will make her next start in Saturday's $250,000 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park, a race she won last year.

In recent months, Azeri has worked much quicker than Saturday's clocking, but trainer Laura de Seroux said she was pleased with the workout under exercise rider Brian Eide.

"I like to see her relax like that going to the Vanity, which is over a mile and an eighth," de Seroux said. "This is the old Azeri of last year that you could get to work in 1:01. The only reason it was a minute and a fifth is she got the first eighth in 12 [seconds] and then she clicked off her 11 and change pace."

Azeri won her last start, the Grade 1 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap May 24.