05/02/2006 11:00PM

Not one to watch from gallery

Email
Horsephotos
Greg Norman

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Greg Norman vows that some day, when one of his horses wins a big one, he'll show up in the winner's circle wearing a super-sized black cowboy hat and carrying a golf-style leader board with "G. Norman" alone at the top, just for yucks.

"I've had jockey agents tell me they've made bets with people who are absolutely convinced I'm the other Greg Norman," Norman said. "Then I show up."

For the record, horse racing's Greg Norman is a 46-year-old native of San Diego who cut his racing teeth alongside his father at Caliente and Del Mar, owns a booming construction management company with his brother, and won the Super Derby in 2005 with a colt he named The Daddy.

In terms of golf, racing's Greg Norman gave up the game some time ago, frankly describing himself as a hacker, yet content in the knowledge that he was a pretty good hitter when he played ball for UCLA and then the Birmingham Barons of the AA Southern League. Let's see the other Greg Norman hit an 85 mph Titleist with a round 7-iron.

Anyway, the other Greg Norman looks nothing at all like horse racing's Greg Norman. The other Greg Norman is taller.

Horse racing's Greg Norman finds himself in the big leagues again this week as he helps his private trainer, Karin Long, prepare the 3-year-old filly Miss Norman for Friday's 132nd running of the Kentucky Oaks. Norman could be found on a cool, cloudy Tuesday morning this week breaking a sweat in Barn 45 as his filly led him around the shed row.

"I spent some time around her before naming her after my 22-year-old daughter, Hayley, who I call 'Miss Norman,' " said Norman, who bought the filly for $300,000 as a yearling. "They are both beautiful, eccentric, and feisty."

Miss Norman, second in the 2005 Frizette behind champion Folklore, will break from the rail in the full Oaks field of 14. If nothing else, the post could keep her from pulling the same stunt that might have cost her victory in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park in her most recent start.

Winging along in front, oblivious to her 41-1 odds, Miss Norman had daylight on her nearest pursuers as she began rounding the final turn. Then, something happened. She bore outward and bolted, resisting all attempts at control from jockey Tony Farina. Norman, standing outside his filly's stall, picks up the narrative:

"She switched to her right lead before coming out of that turn," Norman said. "So she was already on her wrong lead. Then, when Tony drew the whip with his right hand, she saw it. That's when she bolts, into the whip, which they will definitely do. I went from 'She's drawing away!' to 'Oh, my God!' "

Somehow, Miss Norman and Farina recovered their momentum and went after the new leader, Ready to Please. They were gaining ground when it happened again - Miss Norman ducked to the right, into the whip - and they finished second, beaten only three lengths. Farina is being replaced in the Oaks by Pablo Morales, who rode The Daddy to victory in the Super Derby.

"I think it was the second bolt that cost us the race," Norman said.

It was also a perfectly grim ending to a sad week. Just days before the Fantasy, Norman buried his 81-year-old father, Jerry Norman, who had been a regular at the race book of the Sicuyan Indian Casino east of San Diego until failing health put an end to his horseplaying.

"He was my biggest fan," Norman said. "I wish he'd been alive to see the Fantasy. Not only was it a big race in his home state, but we would have spent hours on the phone talking about what happened."

As a hands-on investor, Norman is biting off a lot more than most owners are willing to chew. He entered the business in 1995, going the traditional route with a couple of public trainers before scrapping that plan and taking on a larger role for himself, two years ago.

"While my horses were in those other barns, I tried to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut," Norman said. "I've watched the top trainers, and I've tried to hone what I do with the things I observed."

Norman, who has six horses in training, admits to having no practical experience in horsemanship.

"That is why my personnel are so important in the day-to-day maintenance of the horses," he said. "If things work out, I always want to have a stable trainer, someone who works just for me. Obviously, you're not going to get an established trainer to do that. I'm not big enough to offer the kind of money to entice them. But I think as you grow together we can developed a certain combination of skills to address the challenges."

Such a philosophy, by racing's traditional standards of owner-trainer relationships, is borderline heresy. But Norman is not afraid to buck a little tradition, especially since he places a premium on care. And he is paying the bills, which included a $25,000 supplementary fee to run in the Oaks.

"What do they give you for the Oaks?" Norman said. "Lilies, right? I love lilies. I hope we're wearing them all day Saturday."