Riding for the first time since July 16 because of a back injury, the subbing Patrick Valenzuela drove the 8-1 shot Becrux to a neck victory over Rebel Rebel in the $896,460(US) Bell Woodbine Mile (Can-I) on the E.P. Taylor turf course Sunday.
Valenzuela replaced Corey Nakatani, who hurt a shoulder in a training accident at Santa Anita, on the Neil Drysdale-trained Becrux. Team Valor and Gary Barber own the Italian-bred Becrux, who has mostly competed in Southern California since being transferred to the U.S.
Drysdale celebrated a third victory in Woobine's turf classic, previously known as the Atto Mile, after wins by Labeeb in 1998 and Touch of the Blues in 2003.
The trainer said afterward that Becrux would probably race in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) Oct. 7 at Keeneland next with a tentative date in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs to follow.
Becrux, carrying 117 pounds, was racing mid-pack coming off the turn following favored Three Valleys, edged past that one and then collared Remarkable News in mid-stretch. Becrux gained a slight lead leaving the eighth pole as most of the field spread out across the track and won under steady handling. He fended off the late charge from Rebel Rebel, who rallied under strong encouragement from Edgar Prado but could not get past Becrux in the final strides. Becrux won the race in a time of 1:33 4/5 on firm going.
"I'm fitter now than I was when I was riding eight, nine horses a day," said Valenzuela of returning off such a long layoff. "I'm taking care of myself, doing the right things."
The Aidan O'Brien-trained Ad Valorem, the 124-pound high weight, found a seam mid-stretch and came on late for third under Patrick Husbands, 1 1/4 lengths behind the runner-up. Multiple grade I winner Sweet Return missed third by a head after vying for the lead with Remarkable News through honest fractions of :22 4/5, :45 and 1:09 1/5.
Valenzuela, who has been working horses for about 10 days, won the Queen's Plate, Canada's premier 3-year-old race, aboard Wild Desert in 2005. Southern California's leading rider for the past couple of years, the 43-year-old Valenzuela got the call from Drysdale on Saturday to ride Becrux after Nakatani was injured the same day.
"Canada has been very, very good to me," Valenzuela said with a laugh.
Valenzuela said his back felt fine, but added that only time will really tell if he's healthy enough to ride full-time.
"I haven't been riding for awhile now so we'll see in a month's time how it does," Valenzuela said. "Hopefully it will stay put and I'll be able to keep doing my exercise routine and keep it strong."
The 4-year-old Becrux, who was recently gelded, has been training at Woodbine since finishing a fast-closing second in the Play the King (Can-II) Aug. 26. The son of Glen Jordan won Del Mar's one-mile Wickerr Handicap July 29 on the Del Mar turf prior to that.
"Well, he didn't care for the ground that day (at Woodbine), and he sort of fell back quite a ways and when he hit firmer ground, he came on with a very nice run. We felt that it encouraged us to run in this race," explained Drysdale, who would have won a fourth 'Mile' had his Hawksley Hill not been disqualified in 1999. "He has just continued to improve.
"Barry Irwin (Team Valor president) decided to geld the horse," Drysdale added. "It's made all the difference."
Becrux, who has won eight of 19 lifetime starts with earnings of $838,184, paid $19.70, $8 and $5.90.
The Irish-bred Rebel Rebel, who won the Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont in July, returned $7.50 and $6.10 after making a big move on the extreme outside.
"It set up beautiful," said Prado, who rode Rebel Rebel. "There were a lot of horses with a lot of speed in the race. I was at the back of the pack just biding my time. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to save some ground into the turn. That could have made the difference at the end."
Ad Valorem, winner of the Queen Anne Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot June 20, was worth $5.10 to show.
"Down the backside, my horse was spinning his wheels," said Husbands, noting that Ad Valorem dislikes running on cut ground. "When he reached the nice surface down the lane, he was running. When I got back, his right shoe was gone."
Remarkable News finished fifth, three parts of a length behind Sweet Return. Then came Therecomesatiger, Three Valleys, Diamond Green, Captain Kurt, Dalavin, Shoal Water, Vanderlin and Ballast.
The 5-2 choice Three Valleys was in contention on the inside of Becrux in the stretch but flattened out.
Sunday's victory was worth (US)$536,160.