09/26/2007 11:00PM

Norfolk attracting opportunists

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - With widely varying levels of expectations, Salute the Sarge, P.S.U. Grad, and Trickster Nickster have been entered in Sunday's $250,000 Norfolk Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, attempting to take advantage of a race that has lost three leading contenders in recent weeks.

Salute the Sarge suffered his first defeat when he was second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5. He was expected to start in the $500,000 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 6 until trainer Eric Guillot assessed the probable starters for the Grade 1 Norfolk for 2-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles.

Guillot said his decision to enter was influenced by the absences of Drill Down, Georgie Boy, and Leonides. Drill Down was euthanized last Monday after being injured during a workout, Georgie Boy is being pointed for the California Cup Juvenile on Nov. 3, and Leonides was declared from the Norfolk because of a bruised foot.

"It's probably the easiest way to win a Grade 1," Guillot said of the Norfolk.

A four-week gap between the Norfolk Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27 was a factor, Guillot said.

"The four weeks will make a difference," he said. "He can stay in his own stall until race time, and then we can ship to Monmouth Park right before the Breeders' Cup."

P.S.U. Grad, a filly, is entered for Saturday's Oak Leaf Stakes but has drawn the outside post in a field of 11.

"I'm not pleased with the outside post," trainer Craig Dollase said.

Along with Trickster Nickster and Yes It's a Cat, P.S.U. Grad was supplemented to the Norfolk for $5,000 on Thursday. A decision on whether she will start in the Norfolk will be made on Saturday, Dollase said. Dollase and owner Mike Shustek have until one hour before post time for the Oak Leaf Stakes to decide which race P.S.U. Grad will run in.

"I think we might do it," Dollase said of scratching from the Oak Leaf and running in the Norfolk.

Trickster Nickster won a maiden race over 6 1/2 furlongs in his debut at Fairplex Park Sept. 16. Trainer Doug O'Neill admits that he and owner Paul Reddam will be starting a longshot.

"With a lot of the Del Mar horses not participating, we thought we'd take a shot," O'Neill said.

Yes It's a Cat will make his stakes debut. He beat maidens in his third start on Aug. 11.

Total handle increases for opener

The opening day of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting showed growth in two key categories over the corresponding day in 2006.

The attendance of 15,027 was a 7 percent improvement. The all-sources handle was $8,963,133, a gain of 15.4 percent and the highest on opening day since 2003. The ontrack handle of $2,495,116, though, was down 2.4 percent.

Wednesday's program was the first racing day for Santa Anita's Cushion Track synthetic track. The course was installed at a cost of more than $10 million during the summer and was opened for training in early September.

Overall, the course received favorable reviews from horsemen.

"It seems like a fair and consistent surface," said jockey Richard Migliore, who won the fourth race on Flight Leader ($7.80). "It didn't change from morning to afternoon. If a horse has legitimate speed, you don't have to alter his style."

Dancing Edie takes Maddy

Dancing Edie ended a five-race losing streak in Wednesday's $114,900 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap, and trainer Craig Dollase said he plans to start her in the $1 million E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine on Oct. 21.

Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Dancing Edie ($12) closed from sixth in the final three furlongs to win the Grade 3 Maddy by a half-length over 22-1 Lady Gamer. Strong Faith finished third in the field of 11 fillies and mares. Attima, the 8-5 favorite, finished 10th and bled in the race, according to trainer Julio Canani.

Dancing Edie ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course in 1:13.30. Nakatani brought Dancing Edie through a narrow gap on the rail to reach the front in the final sixteenth. The Maddy was Dancing Edie's first victory since the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar in July 2006, a race in which she finished second this year on Aug. 4.

Dollase said that Dancing Edie missed 12 days of training after the Mabee, which led him to choose a sprint such as the Maddy for her comeback.

"I was a little worried about her fitness," he said. "This was a drop in class in a way for her."

Dancing Edie has won 4 of 20 starts and $782,535.