09/30/2010 4:15PM

J P's Gusto ready for two-turn debut in Norfolk


INGLEWOOD, Calif. − There is a lot on trainer David Hofmans’s shoulders these days, most notably a sling he wears because of a fractured right scapula he suffered courtesy of some roughhousing with his 11-year-old grandson, Cody.

“My grandkids took me out,” Hofmans said jokingly at his Hollywood Park barn.

But if Hofmans is shouldering concerns over the ability of his precocious 2-year-old J P’s Gusto to successfully stretch out around two turns, he is hiding it well. J P’s Gusto is the top-ranked 2-year-old male in Southern California, and he will seek to solidify that position Saturday, when he heads a field of seven in the Grade 1, $250,000 Norfolk Stakes at the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park.

J P’s Gusto is coming off a win going seven furlongs in the Del Mar Futurity, which followed a victory in the Best Pal going 6 1/2 furlongs at Del Mar, which followed a pair of wins in sprint stakes at Hollywood Park during the summer. The Norfolk, at 1 1/16 miles, will mark his first start around two turns. And while J P’s Gusto has a sprint pedigree and the pint-sized physique of a horse whose time is now, Hofmans said he believes J P’s Gusto’s maturity will serve him well going a middle distance.

“He’s always showed a lot of sense,” Hofmans said. “He’s a smart horse. He waits for the rider’s cue. I don’t think this distance will be a problem. I think he’ll be OK.”

What worries Hofmans, though, is the inside draw. He said he was hoping J P’s Gusto would wind up outside the other speed, which would have provided more options.

“We’ll see how he handles things in the heat of the battle,” Hofmans said.

In the Del Mar Futurity, though, J P’s Gusto wound up inside, never flinched, and never got rank. He will need to exhibit the same sensibility in the Norfolk.

“He’s doing great,” Hofmans said. “He really seems to like this track. He liked it here this summer.”

Of the six horses lined up outside J P’s Gusto, Jaycito and Acaffella seem like the primary dangers.

Jaycito is winless after two starts, but he displayed plenty of quality when he rallied to finish second, 4 1/2 lengths behind J P’s Gusto, in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8.

Acaffella also has raced twice. He finished second in his debut on the turf at Del Mar against maidens, then went to Golden Gate Fields on Sept. 11 and won a minor stakes race by six lengths. Russell Baze, who rode him last time out, will be here for the mount.

“His last race was fantastic, I thought,” said Richard Mandella, who trains Acaffella. “He keeps looking like he’s getting better to me.”

Mandella said he started Acaffella on the grass first time out not because he had concerns over his ability on the main track but because he did not want to run him short.

“The maiden turf race was the only two-turn maiden race,” Mandella said.

Boxeur des Rues, a winner of his lone start in Great Britain four weeks ago, is trying to follow in the footsteps of Smart Eddie. Both are sons of Smart Strike who were acquired by owner Paul Reddam and ran in stakes in their North American debuts. Smart Eddie won the Breeders’ Futurity.

Riveting Reason, like Jaycito a maiden, was a distant third in the Del Mar Futurity.

Lucky Mr. K is facing open company for the first time after four starts against California-breds, all in sprints.

Clearance Clarence appears overmatched.