He was considered ordinary as a young horse, but Storming Home now ranks among racing's elite. The 5-year-old son of Machiavellian is the probable favorite for Saturday's John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita.
A homebred who races for Sheikh Maktoum of Dubai, Storming Home comes into the race off a game half-length victory over Johar in the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Handicap at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. But he is best known for his wild, late swerve that cost him a victory in the Arlington Million (gr. IT).
Four years ago, probably no one would have predicted that Storming Home would end up running in such top races. According to Michael Goodbody, the managing director of Sheikh Maktoum's racing and breeding ventures, expectations weren't high before Storming Home was sent to trainer Barry Hills.
"He was very much an average sort of yearling because he wasn't selected by the Godolphin team to join their operation," Goodbody said. "But by the end of his 2-year-old year, he started showing Barry Hills quite a bit; he (Hills) said he was working well."
Even so, Storming Home won only one of his four races at two and only two (including a grade II event) of seven at three. He was known more for his quirky behavior than his talent.
"He's always been a horse that has mind of his own," Goodbody said. "He's a bit mischievous; that's how I would describe him. I think that's because he's a highly intelligent horse; he thinks a lot."
At three, Storming Home finally scored his big breakthrough -- a half-length victory over Moon Ballad in the Champion Stakes (Eng-I). A change in equipment, according to Goodbody, was the key. Cheek pieces, which Goodbody said are made of sheepskin, were placed on the sides of Storming Home's bridle.
"Barry Hills didn't really want to run him in the Champion Stakes," Goodbody remembered. "But Sheikh Maktoum asked if he would run him because he wanted a horse in the race. In the past, he (Storming Home) was sort of not concentrating on what he was meant to be doing. If he saw a gap, he was sometimes a bit reluctant to go through it. But when he had the cheek pieces on, they made him concentrate and go straight. He was perfect in the Champion Stakes--no problem at all."
But there were still questions about Storming Home's ability against top European runners, so he was sent to America for his 2003 campaign.
"We felt there was quite a lot of competition in Europe; a lot of the good older horses were being kept in training," Goodbody said. "After the Champion Stakes, we ran him in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) and he ran very disappointingly (15th in a field of 16), so then we thought America was the place to send him. There were some good opportunities for him there on the turf."
It turned out to be the right move. Storming Home would have been undefeated this year in four starts if he hadn't been disqualified in the Arlington Million. Goodbody gives a lot of credit for the horse's success to trainer Neil Drysdale.
"He (Drysdale) has great patience," Goodbody said. "He's very good at bringing a horse along slowly, and he'll only run a horse if he's 100 percent right on the day. He (Storming Home) has progressed so much this year. He's obviously got a lot of ability and a great turn of foot. He's also adapted well to the training methods and the tracks in America."