HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Stormello has a score to settle. Notional has nothing to settle, but his running style seems to be a perfect fit for the race.
Their trainers have different reasons for shipping cross country, but their West Coast-based colts are part of a formidable field for Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, a final steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Stormello is out to avenge a nose loss in the Fountain of Youth to Scat Daddy, who was made the slight 5-2 morning-line favorite at Wednesday's post position draw. Stormello is 3-1.
Bill Currin, who co-bred, co-owns and trains Stormello, could have avoided a tough nine-horse field - and a long flight from California - if he chose another Derby prep, say the Santa Anita Derby on April 7. But he's looking forward to the rematch with Scat Daddy.
"I'm not looking to duck anybody," Currin said during a conference call this week. "I have one objective and that is to win the Kentucky Derby. You're not going to win it by picking and choosing soft spots. This is not a claiming race. This is about champions."
Doug O'Neill has his own reasons for showing up. Notional, the third choice at 4-1, is one of three Derby hopefuls he trains for Paul Reddam - Great Hunter and Liquidity are the others. In trying to keep them apart until the Derby, the choice for Notional was based on the way the Fountain of Youth unfolded at Gulfstream on March 3.
"They didn't come home real fast and we thought this horse might fit really well down there - a lot of speed and he slips in behind," said Dennis O'Neill, the assistant for his brother, Doug. "After that race, we huddled up and said for $1 million we might get a really good trip behind all the speed and put us in a really good spot."
Stormello, a huge chestnut son of Icy Atlantic, comes into the 1e-mile race with three victories in eight starts, including a win over Notional in the Hollywood Futurity in December. He drew the No. 5 post and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza, who replaces Kent Desormeaux, one of several jockeys riding in Dubai this weekend.
In the Fountain of Youth, it was all Stormello until the final strides, when Scat Daddy came flying down the stretch on the outside and won by a nose.
"Until then I didn't have a score to settle with Scat Daddy," Currin said.
Notional, meanwhile, was steered clear of trouble by jockey Robby Albarado in winning the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 10. In that race, favorite Circular Quay was making a move along the inside at the top of the stretch when he all but stopped as the horse in front of him clipped heels and tossed his rider. Notional won by 2 1/4 lengths and is 2-for-2 this year. The son of In Excess took the San Rafael on Jan. 13.