10/27/2011 3:05PM

Santa Anita: Norvsky capable sub for Acclamation in Cal Cup Classic


ARCADIA, Calif. – The autumn California Cup program has a new look for 2011, and so does the gelding Norvsky. One got smaller, the other got bigger.

The California Cup returns Saturday to Santa Anita with a modified series reduced from eight stakes to five. The Matron and Distance Handicap are gone; the Classic and Mile were combined – the $175,000 California Cup Classic at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

“I like it on grass, and not just because I have a horse that runs on grass,” trainer Don Warren said. “I would run Norvsky on dirt, too. It just seems like a good race on turf.”

Norvsky has run well on all three surfaces available in California – dirt, turf, and synthetic – and has improved as he filled out.

“He started coming around last year and we thought he could be a good horse if we could just get some weight on him,” Warren said. “Maybe not as good as Acclamation, but a pretty good horse.”

While less accomplished than Acclamation, Norvsky will carry owner-breeder Old English Rancho’s banner Saturday at Santa Anita. Norvsky is the likely favorite in the Cal Cup Classic, race 7 on the nine-race card for horses bred or sired in California.

The program includes a pair of routes for 2-year-olds – the $100,000 Juvenile Fillies (race 3) and $100,000 Juvenile (race 4). The $100,000 Sprint (race 8) includes M One Rifle and Bob Black Jack; in the $125,000 Distaff (race 9), Sugarinthemorning is poised to upset likely favorite Unzip Me.

Conspicuous by their Cal Cup absence are two Grade 1 winners. Amazombie was scheduled for his final workout on Saturday before shipping to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint; the Warren-trained Acclamation is out of training after a bruised foot knocked him from Breeders’ Cup consideration.

“We had a great year with him, and now it’s time to rest,” Warren said.

Acclamation has recovered from his foot problem, and remains at Santa Anita where he is merely walking.

Meanwhile, Norvsky stepped up his game and added weight since being put on an ulcer-medication program early this year. “That seems to have done the trick,” Warren said. “It’s been a slow change, but a slow change in the right direction. It’s hard to keep weight on when you’re training the heck out of them.”

A 5-year-old gelding by Vronsky, Norvsky has started seven times this year, and won once while finishing second five times. “He’s a very consistent, hard-trying horse with a lot of seconds,” Warren said.

A deep closer, Norvsky finished second last month in the Ralph Hinds Handicap at Fairplex Park, and previously was second by a nose in the Harry Brubaker at Del Mar. Rafael Bejarano will ride Norvsky, a four-time winner of $287,844 from 15 starts.

Rivals for Norvsky include the potential lone front-runner Lucky Primo; improving former claimer Holladay Road; three-straight-winner Mega Heat; and last year’s Cal Cup Classic winner Soul Candy. He won the race last year at Hollywood Park when it was run on synthetic.

“Maybe next year they’ll put it on dirt,” cracked Soul Candy’s trainer, Paddy Gallagher.

Soul Candy has lost seven straight since the 2010 Cal Cup, but his last five were graded stakes. He was compromised by strategy last out when he made a premature move before he flattened out.

David Flores will ride Soul Candy, a 5-year-old gelding with 4 wins and earnings of $314,300 from 17 starts.

Lucky Primo is expected to set the pace under Victor Espinoza. Winner of the Cal Cup Juvenile in 2008, Lucky Primo is a 5-year-old with only 12 starts, 4 wins. He won a statebred stakes in June at Hollywood, and finished third in his most recent start in July at Del Mar. Joshua Litt bred, owns, and trains Lucky Primo, who could be loose.

Holladay Road stretches back to two turns after a sharp sprint win three weeks ago. Julio Canani claimed him for $25,000 in July at Del Mar when he returned from a 14-month layoff.

“I like the sire [Street Cry] and he was working three-quarters every seven days,” Canani said.

If the Cal Cup Classic unfolds as expected, Holladay Road and Garrett Gomez could be positioned second behind the speed and would get first run if Lucky Primo falters.

Other starters include Tiz Argent, making his first start since April; Romeo Royal, who should be forwardly placed; and Tamarack Smarty, a deep closer.