07/25/2003 12:00AM

Is it Redattore, Special Ring, or Acpen?

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DEL MAR, Calif. - They are the three favorites for the Grade 1 on Sunday, and plans for them are as dissimilar as the curious histories that led them to this, the premier turf race of the Del Mar meet.

One is Redattore, an 8-year-old from Brazil who skipped the Hollywood Gold Cup on the main track last month because of a bruised foot. The foot healed, Redattore is working well, and he will be favored to win the Read for the second time in three years. There is still talk about another dirt race for him, possibly the Pacific Classic.

The second Eddie Read favorite is Special Ring, a 6-year-old who began racing in France and was pointed for the Breeders' Cup Mile last year until he fractured a leg. Off nine months, he returned this season in top form, though the nine-furlong Read is beyond his preferred distance. Special Ring wants shorter. The 2003 Breeders' Cup Mile is in the plans.

The third Read pick is Mister Acpen, who was purchased in Chile to run in Saudi Arabia's prestigious King's Cup. His itinerary was changed after Saudi owner Prince Ahmed bin Salman died last summer. The horse was sold to new owners, his form is strong, and his new agenda includes the Arlington Million at 1 1/4 miles.

Redattore, Special Ring, and Mister Acpen converge Sunday in the $400,000 Read, the first and possibly last time all three will enter the same race. Fateful Dream, Decarchy, and Irish Warrior were also entered.

Imported from Brazil in late 2000, Redattore arrived with Group 1 form and problematic wheels. "That's been his weakness, foot problems back and forth," trainer Richard Mandella said.

Tender feet may have precluded that Gold Cup start last, but bettors can be sure that when Redattore shows up, he shows up to run. Owned by Luis Taunay, Redattore has won 13 races and more than $1.4 million from 27 starts.

Mandella said the bruise caused Redattore "to miss a couple days. He didn't really miss that much training, it just wasn't the time to run him [in the Gold Cup]. We cut the bruise out, and let it toughen up."

Alex Solis rides Redattore, who won the Read in 2001 and finished third last year. His strength is his versatility. "He can do whatever you want him to do, go to the lead or sit back," Mandella said.

Redattore is 3 for 3 this year, including the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile, in which he defeated Special Ring by three-quarters of a length. That was the first start back for Special Ring, who subsequently finished second in a Grade 2 over the same distance as the Read. But can Special Ring actually win at 1 1/8 miles? Trainer Julio Canani argues Special Ring proved his ability at nine furlongs in the American.

"I think he got a mile and an eighth," Canani said. "That other horse [undefeated Candy Ride] made three moves."

In fact, Special Ring employed a passive strategy that squandered his advantage. The slow pace (1:11.02) allowed Candy Ride to stay within striking range and outfinish Special Ring late. The strategy did not work because Special Ring is not a typical turf horse. Rather, Special Ring is a turf horse with the speed of a dirt horse. On his best days, he can run his rivals off their feet by racing six furlongs in 1:09 and change. An aggressive strategy Sunday may allow Special Ring and jockey David Flores to steal the Read. Special Ring, owned by Prestonwood Farm, and has won seven races and $417,021 from 22 starts.

Mister Acpen will try to win at a distance shorter than he prefers. Trainer Kristin Mulhall, who turns 21 Sunday, recognizes that 1 1/8 miles is "a little short," and that the Arlington Million is the main goal. "The longer he goes, the better he will do," she said.

Mister Acpen finished second in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham last out, and Mulhall will remove the blinkers for the Read. "That should make him relax a little bit more," she said.

Victor Espinoza rides Mister Acpen, who is owned by Noctis Stable, Neil Papiano, and Steve Taub.