Here’s a hunch play on Breeders’ Cup day: Special Ring in the Mile.
It’s a hunch because the horse and his trainer share a common strand: a strain of eccentricity. In truth, it would be more than a hunch. It would follow precedent, since Julio Canani, who trains the free-spirited Special Ring, is on a roll in the race. He won it twice in the last four years, with Silic in 1999 and Val Royal in 2001.
And although the native of Oxampampa, Peru, has been known to wear his heart on his sleeve and tell it like it is, regardless of the consequences, he is a serious trainer.
Consider the fact that Canani was introduced to racing at age eight by an uncle at San Felipe race track in Lima, Peru, and in 1963, Julio told Embassy officials he wanted to study electronics and came to the United States when political turmoil reared its ugly head in Peru. He had $600 in his pocket.
The man knows horses and knows how to win. "You can’t go to college to learn how to train horses," he says. "It’s just common sense."
Whether he can train Special Ring to join Silic and Val Royal will be determined when Special Ring runs in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. But first, there’s a scheduled prep race on Oct. 5, the Oak Tree Breeders’ Cup Mile.
"Special Ring is coo-coo," says Canani, who turns 65 on Nov. 13. "He wants to do what he wants to do. He wants to bolt; he wants to do stupid things. That’s why I cut (gelded) him. And I didn’t want to, because he’s by Nureyev and would have been a sire in great demand."
There’s no doubt Special Ring is a grand racehorse. He set a turf course record for a mile and an eighth of 1:454/5 in winning the Grade I Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar on July 27. His second by only three-quarters of a length behind Candy Ride on July 4 in the American Handicap seemed inauspicious at the time, because it was only Candy Ride’s second start in the U.S. But with six consecutive victories, including a dusting of Medaglia d’Oro in the Pacific Classic, the undefeated Candy Ride was co-favored to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but at press time was unlikely to be supplemented to the race for $800,000.
"Special Ring is very talented," Canani admits, "but the horse that had more talent than any of them was Val Royal. He was an amazing horse."
Of Special Ring’s potential Breeders’ Cup rivals, Canani fears European sprinter Oasis Dream as much as any, even though the son of Green Desert’s forte overseas has been sprinting. The Juddmonte Farms’ color bearer is trained by international horseman John Gosden.
But Canani wouldn’t trade places with anyone, even though racing on his home turf would not seem to provide an advantage.
"It doesn’t matter where this horse runs," Canani said. "He’s won here, he’s won at Hollywood, he’s won at Del Mar. He’s won every place he’s been."
Canani has trained Special Ring about two years, thanks to bloodstock agent Hubert Guy, who sold Special Ring to Jack Preston, owner of Prestonwood Farm LLC.
"The horse should have won the first time he ran (in the United States)," Canani said. "But he ran off down the backstretch and opened up (too big a lead), then El Gran Papa caught him and beat him in a photo finish."
As to his success in the eight-furlong races with $1 million purses, Canani shrugs it off with mock shame.
"I’m just lucky in miles," he said.
THE HOMESTRETCH: Julio Canani said his son, Nick, who recently left Southern California to train for prolific owner Michael Gill on the East Coast, is heading to the Fair Grounds "with 70 or 80 horses." A major reason for Nick’s departure was the prohibitive cost of workers’ comp premiums in California. "If help doesn’t come soon," Julio said, "I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s killing (business in) the whole state, not just horse racing." . . . Bob Baffert said Victory U.S.A. will skip the Oak Leaf Stakes and a rematch with Halfbridled at Santa Anita on Sunday and instead point to the Oct. 4 Frizette Stakes at Belmont. "We’ll hook Halfbridled for $1.5 million (in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies), not for $250,000 (purse of the Oak Leaf)," said Baffert, who has engaged Jerry Bailey to ride Victory U.S.A in the $500,000 Frizette . . . Kim Lloyd has gone from horses to Hondas. Another victim of workers’ comp in California, the former trainer currently is Internet sales manager for Rock Honda in Fontana. "It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life," said Lloyd, who was in the racing game for 30 years, since he was 19. "After the horse business, everything’s easy." Asked why he left racing, Lloyd said: "There was more money going out than coming in."