Breeders' Cup Mile Story: The Royal Treatment

Breeders' Cup Mile Story: The Royal Treatment
Photo: Mike Corrado
Val Royal comes from far back to win the Mile.

Published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Blood-Horse
Val Royal wins the Mile at Belmont Park, just like his sire, Royal Academy, did in 1990.

At some of the splashier events on the PGA Tour, a car sometimes sits on a pedestal in a greenside lake, and if a golfer makes a hole in one, he wins the car. Taking that car home takes a combination of luck and some skill. For Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT)-winning trainer Julio Canani, collecting the Mercedes he was already driving was a no-brainer.

"It was waiting for me at the Garden City Hotel when I arrived," Canani related. "The man in Las Vegas (Bernie Schiappa, part owner of a dealership there and of Canani's 1999 Mile winner Silic) said, 'There's a Mercedes there, and there's a hat. You have to win it (the Mile), and you have to wear it (the hat in the winner's circle), and you can keep the car.'

"I brought the hat, but I gave it to a girl upstairs because I didn't want to carry it around. But when the horse won, I couldn't find her. I may not get the Mercedes, but at least the horse ran like one."

Canani shipped Val Royal from California four days before the Oct. 27 Mile after working the French-bred son of Royal Academy, the Mile winner in 1990, four furlongs at Santa Anita in :48 flat. The following day at the post position draw, he came up with a 12 in the starting gate, delighting in what others considered a bad turn of luck. "It's a lucky post position for me," he said. "I had post 12 when I won with Silic."

Owner David Milch, at home in California with a cold, also has a Breeders' Cup history. The four-time Emmy Award-winning producer of "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" watched his first starter (in partnership), Gilded Time, win the 1992 Juvenile (gr. I) and the Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old male. Gilded Time was trained by Darrell Vienna, but Canani and Milch had teamed up once before in the Breeders' Cup when Caffe Latte finished fourth in the inaugural Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) in 1999.

European horses (Ridgewood Pearl, 1995, and Royal Academy) had won the two previous Miles at Belmont Park and their best opportunity to make it a hat-trick appeared to lie with Sussex Stakes (Eng-I) winner Noverre, the 4-1 favorite. The Godolphin runner had in his favor probably the most unusual statistical oddity of any Breeders' Cup race in that he had finished second in Ascot's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (Eng-I)--admittedly to his 33-1 pacemaker Summoner. Three previous winners of the Mile had run second in the QE II as their final prep, but nine winners of the race had crossed the Atlantic a month later with none of them hitting the board.

Principal defenders for the home team, all at 5-1, were Val Royal, the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) winner; Irish Prize, trained by Neil Drysdale, successful last year with War Chant; and Affirmed Success, coming off a nose defeat in the Atto Mile (Can-IT).

The Mile has traditionally attracted the biggest field of the Breeders' Cup races, averaging 13.2 runners. Nineteen horses were pre-entered, but that was whittled down to a dozen come race day. French-trained Banks Hill opted for an easy win in the Filly & Mare Turf; I Love Silver sought an easier spot down the road; and British-trained No Excuse Needed opted out after finishing last in Newmarket's Champion Stakes (Eng-I).

That let Godolphin's $90,000 supplemental entry, Express Tour, into the field, along with Irish-trained Bach and Sarafan, a second runner for trainer Drysdale. The only other supplement was the winner, also at 9% of the purse, which brought the winner's total to $592,800 of the $1,044,240. Now 13, the field was reduced further when Canadian invader Numerous Times, undefeated winner of the Atto Mile, wrenched an ankle in his stall 36 hours before the start.

When the gates opened in the dogleg chute of the Widener Turf Course, last-to-load City Zip was first to exit under Jorge Chavez. Balto Star, victorious in his only turf start, was alongside before the field had gone a furlong. Express Tour was third on the outside, followed by Forbidden Apple, right at home on the course with five wins from seven starts. Then came Affirmed Success, who along with Kona Gold in the Sprint (gr. I) became one of only five horses to have run in four Breeders' Cups, Bach, Noverre in eighth, and Val Royal, second-last under Jose Valdivia Jr. as the quarter flashed in :22.79.

The top two continued their duel into the far turn, where Balto Star dropped back to leave City Zip 2 1/2 lengths clear of Forbidden Apple with Express Tour and Affirmed Success close at hand. Irish Prize was getting into the picture along the inside from 10th at the half-mile, while Val Royal's red and white livery could be seen zooming forward on the outside from 11th after a half-mile.

Into the stretch, Forbidden Apple asserted himself to quickly leave City Zip, but only for a stride or two did it look as if he would get the money. Coming eight wide according to the official chart, and benefiting from a single slap down the right shoulder, Val Royal unleashed "a strong late run...to win going away," but the move was much more than that. Explosive hardly does it justice, and Valdivia took Val Royal in hand before the wire, noting the horse "was just playing around the last few yards." The 5-year-old got his final quarter in a little more than :22, extraordinarily quick even given the very firm turf.

The winning margin was a widening 1 3/4 lengths over Forbidden Apple with three-quarters of a length back to Bach in third. Then came Irish Prize, Navesink, Brahms, Noverre, Sarafan, City Zip, Express Tour, Affirmed Success, and Balto Star. Val Royal paid $12.20 in establishing a new Breeders' Cup Mile record of 1:32.05 (three-quarters in 1:08.65), eclipsing Royal Heroine's previous standard of 1:32.60 set at Hollywood Park in 1984, the inaugural Breeders' Cup card.

"Julio said to try not to move too soon or too late, just ride your horse and don't worry about any kind of bias to the track," Valdivia said. "I didn't want to be cute, to weave my way through the traffic, and as big as the turns are here I didn't think I was going to lose that much ground outside. When I turned for home and he switched leads, he gave me such a powerful kick that I knew I would get there. He's an amazing horse."

Continued...

Mile Chart, From Equibase

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