Valdivia's only previous Breeders' Cup mount had come aboard Big Jag, who was third in the 1999 Sprint. "I started my career in New York, but I haven't been back since 1995," he said. "My uncle is Fernando Toro, who was on Royal Heroine when she won the Mile. My dad rode for 30 years in Peru and all over South America. I'd felt unbelievably good about this horse all week and things have gone my way. My agent took me off a skittish 2-year-old in California and the horse came out of the gate and dropped the rider."
Christophe Clement, trainer of Forbidden Apple, was gracious in defeat. "It's very tough to lose, but it was a great race and my horse got a great ride," he said. "We got beat by a better horse on the day, but it's not too bad being the second-best miler in the world."
Rider Corey Nakatani also took Forbidden Apple's defeat on the chin. "My horse couldn't have run any better," he said. "He broke perfect, got great position, and I was in front at the right time, then along comes a world-beater."
Satish Sanan and Susan Magnier's Bach ran his "best race of the year," according to Ballydoyle stable jockey Michael Kinane. "This was his kind of turf," he said. "He traveled real sweet and we had a very good trip."
Noverre's trainer, Saeed bin Suroor, and jockey Frankie Dettori feared something was amiss with the horse on pulling up. "I got out there on the turn and he didn't feel right," said Dettori. "I think something happened underneath. When I asked him, there was nothing there, and that's not him."
After the Mile presentation by Michael Imperioli and Jamie Lynn Sigler of the "Sopranos," where Peruvian-born Canani held aloft an American flag, the trainer recounted his trials and tribulations with the horse who "has so much ability, it's scary," preceded by bloodstock agent Hubert Guy, who bought Val Royal in France.
"I bought him in August of 1999 for $1 million from Jean-Luc Lagardere, who is the president of France-Galop, and I believe he was considered Andre Fabre's best 3-year-old," Guy said. "The Epsom Derby (Eng-I) might have been a bit far for him, but he went on to win a group II at Deauville, and we bought him. He's the fourth Breeders' Cup winner I've bought including Silic, Lit de Justice, and Elmhurst. David (Milch) was a little reluctant at first, but then he went ahead and bought him."
Canani got his hands on Val Royal just before the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT), which he won by a half-length as the 7-5 favorite. "He came out of the race perfect, we breezed a couple of times at Santa Anita, and one morning his right front tendon was a little warm," the 62-year-old trainer said. "He was scanned and there was a lesion the size of the head of a match, very tiny. He was treated with a miracle drug from those days which is no longer on the market. They said treat him for seven months, but he had 14 months of it and has no problem with the tendon now.
"He came back in March this year and was beaten a length in a grade II (Frank E. Kilroe Mile), then he got a big quarter crack because it was raining and they were sealing the track at Santa Anita. It took seven months for the hoof to grow out completely, but now he's a very sound horse."
Val Royal became the 11th domestically-trained winner of the Mile and the fourth in a row. He followed Silic and War Chant in using victory in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile as a springboard to victory. Three trainers have won the Mile twice with the same horse--Michael Dickinson (Da Hoss), "Shug" McGaughey (Lure), and the late Francois Boutin (Miesque)--but Canani is the first to accomplish the feat with different horses.
"Silic was an easy horse to train and a sweetheart," Canani said. "This horse is the toughest in my barn, a real man. You have to be careful around him. Earlier in the year, he sent my groom to the hospital and it cost me $4,400. The horse threw him against the wall.
"Silic ran five times before the Mile, maybe one too many races, but this horse has only had two races this year and nine in four years," Canani said. "He's a brand new horse. When he was injured, I kept him in the barn rather than send him to the farm because I like him so much and he's very temperamental. I have to thank David Milch for that...it's expensive to keep a horse at the track. I train 30 horses, one-and-a-half for him."
Canani's other runner on World Thoroughbred Championships Day, Tranquility Lake, had finished ninth in the Distaff (gr. I). Canani flew home to California Saturday night with her owner, Marty Wygod of River Edge Farm, with a tentative plan to run Val Royal in the Hong Kong Mile (HK-II) or 10-furlong Cup (HK-I) in mid-December. The following morning he said: "I'm considering the Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood as well."