09/27/2001 12:00AM

First time at a mile will test Came Home

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes has not been particularly kind to chalk - six of the last nine odds-on favorites have lost the 2-year-old stakes, which will be run Saturday at Santa Anita.

The trend will be tested next with the Norfolk's short-priced favorite, Came Home, whose Grade 1 Hopeful victory upped his record to 3 for 3. The same attributes that got Came Home this far, however, - speed and precocity - serve as potential impediments when he runs a mile for the first time Saturday. Regular rider Chris McCarron recognizes the challenge.

"You always hope a horse who possesses this much early speed is not going to be limited by one style," McCarron said. "We're going to find out as his career goes on - it's pretty obvious if he runs the same type of race he's been running, he's going to be tough."

Will he ever. A field of eight entered the $250,000 Norfolk, the California prep for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. By most every measure, Came Home is the one to beat. He won his debut by eight lengths, the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile by four, and the Grade 1 Hopeful by two. Only one other starter - surprise entrant Ecstatic - has done anything more than win a maiden race.

Owned and bred by John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, Came Home is trained by Paco Gonzalez while McCarron has enjoyed the ride. The colt has climbed the class ladder while stretching from five furlongs, to six, and seven last time out. The Norfolk is one mile.

"The main question is his cooperation conserving his energy [and] rationing his speed," McCarron said. As for the colt's up-front running style, McCarron said, "I think he's talented enough he could do all the running and keep going, or he could be rated. He has a good head on his shoulders."

From a handicapping and wagering perspective, Came Home is an enigma. He is fast and classy, but so were other odds-on favorites foiled stretching out in the Norfolk. Forest Camp, Daring General, Swiss Yodeler, Single Dawn, Music Merci, and Gulch lost the race at odds-on.

Whatever stamina Came Home possesses, he must get from his sire Gone West. That is because his dam, Nice Assay, was by sprint sire Clever Trick. She was most effective in sprints, as was her best previous offspring - A.P. Assay.

At least Came Home has established his class. The Bob Baffert-trained Ecstatic will be facing stakes company for the first time. The Rahy colt was expected to run next weekend at Keeneland until Baffert called an audible. Citing travel arrangements and the fact Ecstatic is training so well at Santa Anita, he elected to stay home. Ecstatic raced gate to wire in his debut, then was all-out to win an allowance race at 3-10.

"When he makes the lead, he gets lazy," Baffert said, adding "I don't think he'll have that problem with Came Home. He's got his work cut out, but so does Came Home."

The Eoin Harty-trained entry of Essence of Dubai and Ibn Al Haitham have a look at an upset. Essence of Dubai won his debut, then blew his cool in the paddock and finished well back in his second start. Ibn Al Haitham is still a maiden, but his last start was better than it looks. Racing over a speed-favoring track, the colt stumbled, lost position, raced wide, and missed by a neck.

THE FIELD

Norfolk Stakes

Purse: $250,000; 1 mile

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS

1Came HomeC. McCarron 3-5

2Villa AmalfiJ. Valdivia Jr.30-1

3TracemarkL. Pincay Jr.20-1

4Roman DancerM. Rodriguez12-1

5EcstaticV. Espinoza5-1

6(a) Essence of DubaiA. Solis4-1

7(a) Ibn al HaithamD. Flores4-1

8SunkosiG. Gomez12-1

All starters carry 118; (a) - Coupled

Odds by Brad Free