08/21/2008 11:00PM

Canani has possible classic scenario


DEL MAR, Calif. - It's been a rocky summer at Del Mar. The only sure things have been Ziggy Marley and Zenyatta. Business has been mixed, with about the same number of sunburned faces showing up but spending less. Horsemen and horses have been used once again as guinea pigs in the ongoing evolution of racing surfaces and medication rules. Fish tacos have lost their thrill.

Don't look for the $1 million Pacific Classic to provide any clear resolution, even though it is rightly considered the high point of the meet. When the 10-furlong main track event is run for the 18th time on Sunday, the field will feature no single individual with particular star power. About the most fans can expect is a wide-open betting event and a dash of flavor from one of the following angles:

* A defense of the crown by the 2007 Classic winner, Student Council. Few winners of a million-dollar event have been more maligned, primarily because it took Student Council 2:07.29 to win last year's running over a Polytrack surface resembling last night's couscous. Student Council has performed admirably since, with wins in the Hawthorne Gold Cup and the Pimlico Special, as well as good seconds behind lone front-runners in his last two starts, the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Whitney.

* Another face-off featuring the last two winners of the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic. So far, 2007 Sunshine hero McCann's Mojave has lost both confrontations with the 2008 Sunshine winner, Go Between. But at least, the last time they met, there was barely two lengths separating them at the end of the Hollywood Gold Cup, when Go Between was second and McCann's Mojave finished fourth.

* A chance for the Bobby Frankel stable to break a six-year Pacific Classic drought with Mast Track, wire-to-wire winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start. Through its first 11 runnings, the Classic was a wholly owned subsidiary of Frankel, Inc. He won it with Skimming twice, Tinners Way twice, Missionary Ridge, and Bertrando. Since 2001, though, Frankel has managed only a second and a couple of thirds.

* A chance for Julio Canani to win his first Pacific Classic with Mostacolli Mort, a winner of three allowance races this year and third behind Well Armed in the San Diego Handicap last time out. With Victor Espinoza aboard, Mostacolli Mort's stretch-running style could put him in the thick of things at the end of a truly run mile and a quarter.

"You like that horse?" Canani said, pretending to be amazed that someone would ask. "Listen, you see his last race? He could have won that race. I don't want to jinx myself or nothing, but passing the wire, that horse was in front."

The idea of Julio Canani jinxing himself is fairly absurd. He carries charms for that, wears lucky clothing, and watches his races from strange corners of the stands. He continued:

"Listen, after that, I put Espinoza on him to work in the morning. I said just go in a minute. He goes in 58-and-3, galloped out seven-eighths in 24. Then I'm working him three-quarters and put Victor on again. I said go in like 13. He went 11 and change and galloped out a mile in like 34. So the next time I put the exercise boy on him and say just five-eighths in 1:02. Don't do nothing."

Mostacolli Mort was bred and is owned by Jeff Nielson's Everest Stables. A gelded son of Hold for Gold (by Red Ransom), he swung for the fences in major grass stakes last year before settling into his 4-year-old season with a more reasonable progression of challenges.

"I took the blinkers off and I put him on the synthetic, and that was the change," Canani said. "The horse himself, little by little was progressing, showing that he could be where he is right now."

Canani has won just about every major race Del Mar has to offer, including four Del Mar Derbies, three Eddie Reads, the Oaks, the Mabee, and the Debutante. But when it comes to the Classic, he has never been a player. His only other starter was the 91-1 Albaha, who finished last in the 1998 running.

Mostacolli Mort won't be that kind of number - he was 9-1 in the San Diego - and he'll be rolling at the end, sailing past anything retreating among such habitual front-runners and pace-pressers like Mast Track, Well Armed, Surf Cat, and the easterners Delosvientos and Barcola. With luck and the right set of circumstances, Canani gives his horse a chance. Then, without prompting, he really tipped his mitt by summoning up an historical event that still resonates through the ages.

"I was 50-1 in the Santa Anita Handicap and I bet on it," Canani said, and he did not even need to mention the name of the victorious Martial Law. The 1989 running of the Santa Anita Handicap was, at least parimutuelly, the most mind-boggling in its history. Frankel finished second with the 40-1 pacesetter Triteamtri, while Bruce Headley (who has Surf Cat on Sunday) sent out the 80-1 Stylish Winner to be a close third.

"I told Bobby just to go to the lead. I don't want to bother you. Don't worry about it," Canani said. "I had a $50 exacta to Frankel for second."

The exacta, a $5 bet in those days, paid $3,717. Good times. As for Mostacolli Mort in the Classic, don't worry about it.