Maktoum al Maktoum's odds-on favorite Storming Home, ridden by Gary Stevens, caught a determined Johar in deep stretch and went on to a half-length victory in Sunday's $245,000 Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship (gr. IT) on opening day of the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita.Storming Home, a 5-year-old son of Machiavellian, was making his first start for trainer Neil Drysdale since his disqualification from victory in the Aug. 16 Arlington Million (gr. IT), when he dumped Stevens just past the finish line. Storming Home was the best that day and he has won all three of his other United States starts as well.Drysdale said that Storming Home's goal is the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup John Deere Turf (gr. IT) at 1 1/2 mile on the Santa Anita turf."That's the plan," he said. Asked if Storming Home is as good a grass horse as he's ever had, Drysdale said: "I'll tell you later on."
Stevens said the Hirsch win was especially gratifying."I haven't slept well since (the Million), and not just because of what happened to me," Stevens said. "There's a lot of hard work that has gone into this horse, from the trainer, to the assistant trainer to the groom, to the exercise rider, everybody. They love this horse, and to have that kind of prize money taken away, and the prestige of the Arlington Million taken away, it hurt everyone. "Everyone was concerned about me, and I even got a nice personal letter from (owner Maktoum al Maktoum), so this is a sweet vindication."Third and about three lengths behind in mid-stretch, it was questionable whether Storming Home, at odds of 3-10, could catch the 3-1 Johar, who was in a full drive for the wire under jockey Alex Solis. But Stevens got Storming Home free on the outside and they were able to get the job done. The final time for the 1 1/4 mile-Hirsch was 2:01 3/5 on a firm course. Johar was anxious early and Solis kept a tight hold on the Thoroughbred Corp. homebred as he set the pace for the four-horse field in a dawdling :25 2/5 for the opening quarter-mile, :50 3/5 for the half and 1:15 2/5 for six furlongs. Storming Home, four wide on the turn, wasn't making much of an impression on Johar until roused under strong urging the final furlong, when he kicked in for Stevens. Irish Warrior was another 1 1/4 length back in third. Continuously was last.The fractions worried Drysdale."You bet I was concerned," he said. "He showed me another dimension today. He did it very well. Gary said he was completely switched off and that he felt he had the measure of the other horses. He behaved very well. He's always behaved well here."Drysdale said he believed Storming Home's antics at Arlington will not be repeated.The dark bay arrived in the U.S. from his native Britain in May with a win in the Jim Murray at Hollywood Park. He also captured the Charles Whittingham (gr. IT) at that track. He won the Champion Stakes (Eng-I) at Newmarket in October.Overall, he has an 8-4-3 record in 23 career starts with earnings of $1,536,704.Johar, trained by Richard Mandella, provided a game effort while racing in an unfamiliar front-running style. He should be well set for the Breeders' Cup Turf as well. The Hirsch was the colt's second start since Jan. 20, when he won the San Marcos (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita."He ran great for his second time back," Mandella said. "We'll point to the Breeders' Cup (Turf). (The winner) is as good as we all think he is. I got a real race in my horse now, and we'll point for the Breeders' Cup. That race at Del Mar wasn't a really big one for him. This is more like it and I should be at my best the next time. There'll be no excuses."Solis agreed."When he went for home I thought I was gone for sure. I couldn't believe he (Storming Home) got to me. What did we run that last quarter in -- :22? (:22 3/5). We were really cooking. I didn't think he was going to catch up to me. But I have no complaints. My horse did all we asked. He just got beat."Storming Home paid $2.60 and $2.10. Johar returned $2.10. There was no show wagering. The $2 exacta was worth $4.80.The four-horse field was the smallest for the Hirsch since 1993.(Chart, Equibase)