12/31/2002 1:00AM

Canani tackles 'Presidente'


ARCADIA, Calif. - He once praised him. Still does. But now he'd rather beat him. Trainers Julio Canani and Bobby Frankel are good friends. Canani worshiped Frankel, calling him "Presidente" when Frankel years ago began his steady ascent to the top of California's training list. Now, they often run against each other, though Frankel has a far larger barn, and thus more firepower.

Thursday's featured seventh race at Santa Anita finds Canani and Frankel in a showdown. Their fillies, Adalgisa and Nunatall, respectively, head a field of 10 in an optional-claiming race at one mile on turf.

As usual, Frankel has the one to beat. Nunatall already has proven herself against graded stakes company. Nunatall won the Grade 3 Lake George Handicap at Saratoga, and was a close fourth behind East Coast stalwarts Wonder Again and Riskaverse in her last start, the Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 8.

The Canani-trained Adalgisa has the look of a rising star. Since arriving in this country in mid-summer, she has won three times in four starts, including one race in which she ran above her allowance conditions and won anyway.

Canani, surprisingly, has had to juggle different riders on Adalgisa. David Flores, who rides on Thursday, will be the fourth jockey to ride Adalgisa in her five starts here.

Last summer, when Adalgisa was still in France, Canani was attempting to purchase the filly for owner David Milch. Canani was attracted to Adalgisa because she had run second to Heat Haze, a half-sister to Banks Hill, in a race in April at Chantilly.

"The third and fourth horses in that race came back and ran second and third in a Group 2," Canani said. "This filly was running against group-quality horses over there."

Milch, however, was in the process of deciding he wanted to scale back his involvement in the sport. Canani, desirous of acquiring Adalgisa, lamented his predicament one morning to Flores and jockey Garrett Gomez. They said they knew an owner who would be interested. Canani talked to Bob Beck, who got two others to become partners, and they were able to acquire Adalgisa and send her to Canani.

Gomez rode Adalgisa in her first two starts in this country. All along, though, Flores has worked her.

Noches de Rosa is a main threat to the top two. She has been facing some of the best female grass runners on the West Coast since she arrived from Chile, where she was a Group 1 winner.

"I wasn't happy with the way she was doing mentally at the end of Oak Tree," trainer Richard Mandella said. "She seems to be getting it together now."

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