Ground Storm caught pacesetter Duckhorn in the stretch, then pulled away to a two-length victory in Saturday's $109,200 Stymie Handicap (gr. III) on the inner-track at Aqueduct.
Favored Duckhorn set the early pace while pressed by 25-1 longshot Flying Barron, then pulled to a five-length advantage after six furlongs run in 1:10.65. Ground Storm raced in third at that point, a half-length behind Flying Baron. Under Javier Castellano, Ground Storm moved up to challenge approaching the stretch and pulled clear in the final furlong to notch his eighth career win in his 20th start.
"The leader (Duckhorn) was having things his own way, and it looked like he was doing it pretty easily," said Seth Benzel, assistant to trained Bill Mott. "I was worried for a moment, but our horse bore down on the leader and grinded out the win. Maturity has had a lot to do with his improvement. He's finally lost some of his coltishness and he has his head on running. They had an excellent trip. Javier (Castellano) really knows this horse well."
Duckhorn finished second, just over a length ahead of Pleasant Divorce. Wild Summer, Threecoinsinfountin, Judge's Case, and Flying Baron completed the order of finish. Top Official was scratched.
Sent off the second choice at 7-5, Ground Storm returned $4.80, $2.70, and $2.30. Duckhorn paid $3.10 and $2.50. Pleasant Divorce was worth $3.90 to show. The exacta returned $11.
Centennial Farms' Ground Storm completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.89 on a fast track and earned $65,520 for the win, his first in a stakes race. The 6-year-0ld son of Summer Squall previously finished second to Evening Attire in January's Aqueduct Handicap (gr. III) and third in the Dominion Day Handicap (Can-III) last July at Woodbine.
"The Excelsior Handicap (gr. III) is a possibility (for his next start)," said Benzel. "He had a troubled trip in that race last year." (Chart, Equibase