10/01/2009 11:00PM

A chance to find out what's what


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is an easy explanation for the fact that a total of 25 foals of 2007 have been entered to run Sunday in Oak Tree's Norfolk Stakes and Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita.

It is not because they are both Grade 1 events, whatever that's worth.

It is not because they both carry purses of $300,000, which is nice.

And it is not because they are all bred for the 1 1/16 miles and crying for the distance, although by this time of year that's the way it should be.

Nope. The reason this herd of young talent is being led over on a hot October afternoon in suburban L.A. is because each of the races is a dress rehearsal for not one, but two separate Breeders' Cup events four weeks down the road.

They can't all squeeze into the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile or the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and still leave room for candidates from Kentucky, Florida, and New York. So, by way of consolation, some of them could end up in either of the corresponding races on the grass - the $1 million Juvenile Turf or the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf.

By now, it has been driven home with a steady beat that American 2-year-olds barely graze, let alone race, on grass. Still, a more recent vintage of conventional wisdom continues to insist that a synthetic surface, over which the Oak Leaf and Norfolk will be run, leans in favor of horses who are just as comfortable on grass. This is a convenient generalization, not necessarily supported across the board. A number of good grass runners had no luck on Pro-Ride last winter, including Magical Fantasy, Visit, and Madeo. Racehorses, being like snowflakes, offer infinite subtleties of stride, differences that add or subtract reach, time, and energy during each four-legged cycle.

Apply this to a synthetic surface that can vary with alterations in weather and care, and it is easy to see why a trainer like Peter Eurton is wondering just how his new shooter Lucky Rave will handle the challenge of the Norfolk in his first U.S. appearance. Coming from England, Lucky Rave will have not only the surface to contend with, but also more distance than he's ever faced and two tight turns, along with a weather change that went from the onset of English autumn to the hot, dry Santa Ana winds of a Southern California fall.

Lucky Rave cleared quarantine Sept. 25 and settled immediately into Eurton's Santa Anita barn. He was bedded down in a stall next to Star Nicholas, winner of the Windy Sands at Del Mar and scheduled to run in the California Cup Classic the day before the Norfolk. A grandson of Kris S. and Barathea, Lucky Rave is owned by Marc Ferrell, who also races Fiddlers Afleet, winner of the Albany Stakes at Saratoga this summer. Ferrell will be represented Sunday in the Oak Leaf as well with the Irish filly Forbidden Paradise, who came to these shores with just one start. Trained by Dave Hofmans, Forbidden Paradise won her American debut going a mile on the grass at Del Mar.

"He's a very good-moving horse, very athletic for a small horse, but not overly small," Eurton said of Lucky Rave. "Probably just shy of 16 hands. He worked on Tuesday, a real nice little breeze. He's got no real quirks about him, although he's not supposed to be a particularly good gate horse. His trainer over there has been great. Gave me a whole update - what he's done with him, what he likes."

Eurton produced his iPhone and scrolled down a series of e-mails from trainer David Brown, who took Lucky Rave to the races five times at such British outposts as Haydock, Carlisle, Wolverhampton, and Lingfield for two wins, a second, a third, and a fourth. His two wins came over all-weather tracks.

"He's handled this surface well," Eurton said, referring to Santa Anita's Pro-Ride. "It can be fast, if the weather's good and you get some water on it. But it can also get deeper if you let it and look like you could get a shovel full of carpet off it. A horse with a very efficient way of traveling, where his feet just barely leave the ground, can get a lot of drag on a surface like that. It can be very fatiguing, and he could stumble a lot."

Eurton, 52, tried race riding in his youth before it became apparent that his true path was training. His stepfather, Steve Ippolito, was a successful trainer from coast to coast, whose best runners included the fleet filly Bird Boots, winner of the 1973 Long Beach Handicap (now the Gamely) at Hollywood Park. Champion Susan's Girl was second.

"Steve was tough," Eurton said. "I won a race for him once at Pomona. It was close, and the first thing he said was how could I almost get beat when he put me on a 2-5 shot?"

Standing at Lucky Rave's stall, Eurton stuck his fist in the colt's throatlatch and smiled. Lucky Rave acted like people did it all the time.

"You could stick a football in there," he said. "You like to see that. He hadn't grown much of a coat, either, and what there is has been coming off real nice. You don't know about the distance, although he's got the breeding, and his best race was his last one, at seven furlongs.

"We'll just have to see what happens on Sunday and go from there," Eurton added. "It will be fun to find out what we've got."