Val Royal on Eclipse Quest in Citation

Val Royal on Eclipse Quest in Citation
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Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal is on a quest for an Eclipse Award.
From Hollywood Park
Bidding for an Eclipse Award as 2001 Turf Champion, Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal will be a solid favorite to capture Hollywood Park's Grade II, $500,000 Citation Handicap on Saturday before shipping to Asia to compete in the $2.3-million Hong Kong Cup on Dec. 16.

The 5-year-old French-bred colt became a surprise addition to the Citation cast after owner David Milch and trainer Julio Canani conferred on Tuesday. "It was David's idea, but I agree with him," Canani said. "He's very lightly raced and is the kind of horse who only runs the last quarter of a mile. He doesn't have to run hard every step of the way."

Val Royal's presence led to the defection of Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Forbidden Apple from the mile-and-one-sixteenth Citation, one of six graded stakes races at Hollywood Park this weekend that constitute the track's annual Turf Festival.

Twelve other colts and geldings nonetheless were entered in the 25th running of the Citation, supported on Saturday's Turf Festival lineup by the Grade III, $200,000 Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds at one-mile.

Val Royal's opponents include El Cielo, who has won eight of ten starts the last two years including four graded races, but the 7-year-old's best efforts have come while sprinting.

Val Royal, who has earned $1,108,444 from a 7-2-0 mark in ten lifetime starts, will carry high weight of 124 pounds, two more than Breeders' Cup Mile fourth-place finisher Irish Prize and two more than El Cielo.

Television producer and writer Milch, co-creator of "NYPD Blue," and trainer Canani figure that a sweep of the Citation and Hong Kong Cup could tilt Eclipse Award voting in Val Royal's favor. Fantastic Light, the consensus choice following his Breeders' Cup Turf triumph, was subsequently retired.

"I think he has a good chance already," said Canani, "but he would really have to be considered if he was to finish the year by winning these two races."

Plagued earlier in his career by injuries, Val Royal has overcome tendon and foot problems to fully blossom this year. "He's the most talented horse I've ever had," said Canani, whose barn has included such grade I winners as Silic, Ladies Din and Tranquility Lake.

Sidelined for 18 months after winning his U.S. debut, the 1999 Del Mar Derby, the brilliant stretch runner returned last March to rally for second in the Kilroe Handicap at Santa Anita. After another injury break, he took the Oct. 7 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile before winning the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Mile.

Regular rider Jose Valdivia, erstwhile regular rider of El Cielo, will be aboard in the Citation. Val Royal drew post position No. 2.

Irish Prize, who finished four lengths behind Val Royal in the Breeders' Cup Mile, drew post No. 11 and will be ridden by Alex Solis for the first time. The chestnut gelding, trained by Neil Drysdale for Sheik Maktoum Al Maktoum, has posted an 8-3-1 record in 22 starts for earnings of $972,353.

Garrett Gomez replaces Valdivia aboard El Cielo, who drew post No. 6. His 13-2-1 record in 19 races has generated earnings of $651,375.

The complete field for the Citation Handicap, in post position order with jockeys and weights: a-Good Journey, Chris McCarron, 113; Val Royal, Jose Valdivia Jr., 124; Native Desert, Eddie Delahoussaye, 116; Decarchy, Kent Desormeaux, 116; Purely Cozzene, Tyler Baze, 113; a-El Cielo, Garrett Gomez, 120; Quake, Corey Nakatani, 114; Fighting Falcon, Mark Guidry, 115; b-Sarafan, Victor Espinoza, 116; a-I've Decided, David Flores, 116; Irish Prize, Alex Solis, 122; b-Lord Jim, Brice Blanc, 115, and Takarian, Laffit Pincay Jr., 115. a-coupled; b-coupled.

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