09/27/2007 11:00PM

Norfolk a 'Why not?' kind of race

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - The Norfolk Stakes is always worth a shot. Two turns for 2-year-olds on a nice fall afternoon - let's see what you've got.

Last year's winner, Stormello, was nearly 12-1. Free House popped in the 1996 Norfolk at a juicy 9-1. Joe Steiner won his Norfolk Stakes when he cruised home at 12-1 aboard Saratoga Passage in 1987. And Money Lender gave Hall of Fame jockey John Longden a victory as a trainer in the 1973 version of the Norfolk, at 17-1 no less.

This time around, in the 38th running of the Grade 1 Norfolk on Sunday, sportsmanship abounds. Spicing up a field of 12 entered are a maiden gelding and a stakes-winning filly.

The filly, P.S.U. Grad, also was entered in the Oak Leaf Stakes against females on Saturday. She was more likely to run there, according to trainer Craig Dollase, who was not particularly pleased after drawing the 11-hole in a field of 11 going 1o1/16 miles on the main track. She drew post 9 for the Norfolk, at the same distance.

"This gives us an option," Dollase said. "If horses start to scratch out of the Norfolk, we'd have to think about it. Her numbers stack up good with the favorites in that race, and sometimes fillies can be a little more precocious than colts this time of year. Either way, she's already got experience going two turns, which is a plus."

Dollase was right, in the narrowest sense, since P.S.U. Grad just won the Barretts Debutante Stakes at Fairplex Park on Sept. 15. At 6 1/2 furlongs on the five-furlong bullring, there are two turns involved and a lot of time spent leaning left. She won with a flourish, by four lengths.

A filly has won the Norfolk before. The very first one, in fact, in 1970, when June Darling went off at 2-5 and won by five for Clement Hirsch and trainer Warren Stute. Bill Mahorney was along for the ride.

Only one other filly has come close, and it was very close. Fali Time, held at 18-1, needed everything Sandy Hawley could throw at him to beat Life's Magic and Laffit Pincay by a nose in 1983.

So much for gender issues. Guts has none. As a gelded son of Unusual Heat, Guts enters the Norfolk off a narrow loss in a maiden mile at Del Mar that could have gone either way in the stewards' stand.

"I feel like he shouldn't be a maiden," said Barry Abrams, who trains Guts for Andy Hills and David Abrams, the trainer's brother. "He only got beat a neck, and he still showed me a lot. People can give me a hard time about running a maiden in a Grade 1 stakes, but I think he belongs."

Absolutely. Why not take a shot? Guts is by Unusual Heat, a son of Nureyev and one of California's most prolific sires. His sons and daughters seem to come running out of the womb, and Guts was one of them, even though Abrams waited until Aug. 22 to unwrap his young runner over Del Mar's Polytrack surface. Guts has trained steadily since then, turning in a serious work every week and taking to Santa Anita's Cushion Track without a hitch.

"He's got some size, so I intended all along not to run him until Del Mar," Abrams said. "And now he's got the name."

The California foal of 2005 by Unusual Heat out of the Proud Irish mare Creme Carmela hails from the female family that produced California 2-year-old champion Proud Tower and Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Proud Tower Too. When it came to applying for a name, co-owner Hills asked for "Nutzapper" and got it.

"I was watching the Jay Leno Show one night, and he was talking about a male contraceptive," Hills said in an interview with Daily Racing Form on the day Nutzapper was entered in August. "Kevin Eubanks said, 'You mean a nutzapper?' I thought that would be a good name for a horse, like Ghostzapper.

"The Jockey Club questioned the name," Hills went on. "I told them that as a young boy growing up in Canada, we would boil walnuts in oil, put them on salads, and they were very tasty. I told them that's where nutzapper came from. It's kind of amazing. I've never even been to Canada. I just made the whole thing up on the spot. Hopefully, he's destined to be a champion."

Apparently, someone at the Jockey Club read DRF and didn't get the joke. Killjoys. The owners were told to change the name or basically turn Nutzapper into a riding horse. That's when Barry Abrams unearthed a gem he had been polishing for some time.

Guts was the name of the superb Standardbred pacer that put Abrams on the map, at the age of 29. Guts won nearly $2 million, along the way suffering a narrow loss in the $1.2 Meadowlands Pace that might have made him a champion of 1984.

"I'd been reserving the name for years and years until a horse came along that I thought deserved it," Abrams said. "They say it's bad luck to change a horse's name - but not when they make you do it. When they said change it, I thought he'd shown enough to be called Guts."