09/29/2001 12:00AM

Essence of Dubai captures Norfolk


ARCADIA, Calif. - When Essence of Dubai finished last of three in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar on Aug. 15, it seemed improbable that he would win a major stakes this fall.

But on Saturday, after Came Home, the winner of the Hopeful Stakes, was scratched with a possible ankle injury, Essence of Dubai won the $250,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita.

Essence of Dubai ($4) finished a mile in 1:37.16, benefiting from a perfect ride from jockey Alex Solis.

Owned by Godolphin Racing, Essence of Dubai will be pointed for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park on Oct. 27, according to trainer Eoin Harty.

After stalking the pace to the final turn, Solis guided Essence of Dubai through a sizable hole along the rail to win by three lengths over stablemate Ibn al Haitham.

"It set up for him," said winning trainer Eoin Harty said. "But you have to admit, it wasn't the toughest Breeders' Cup prep in the nation."

Ecstatic finished fourth but was placed third after the stewards ruled that longtime leader Roman Dancer caused interference when he drifted to the outside entering the stretch. Trademark finished fifth, followed by Villa Amalfi.

The Grade 2 Norfolk was Essence of Dubai's first stakes win. He was beaten 10 1-2 lengths by Officer in the Best Pal Stakes, a result that stunned Harty.

"His race at Del Mar kind of blew my confidence in him," Harty said. "I said before I thought he was a little lost in a three-horse field. I always felt he was capable of much better."