10/29/2001 12:00AM

Mile: Val Royal's work is far from finished

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The best may be yet to come from Val Royal, who won Saturday's $1,044,240 Breeders' Cup Mile in his third start of the year.

Twice in the last two years, Val Royal has battled back from injuries - a lesion in a tendon in October 1999 and a quarter crack in March - to rise to the top of his division.

His victory in Saturday's Mile, achieved in stakes record time of 1:32.05, was Val Royal's seventh win in 10 starts.

"His future is in front of him," trainer Julio Canani said. "He's like a 3-year-old. He hasn't run that many times."

The victory gave jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. his first win in a Breeders' Cup race and gave owner David Milch and Canani their second victories. Milch won the 1992 Juvenile with Gilded Time, and Canani saddled Silic to win the 1999 Mile.

Val Royal ($12.20), who prepped with a victory in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 7, improved his earnings to $1,108,444.

Valdivia, 26, crossed the line wearing an ear-to-ear grin. "I don't think it's sunk in," he said a few minutes after the race. "I felt really good about my chances all week."

Valdivia gave Val Royal a patient ride. After a clean start, Val Royal was 11th on the backstretch, well off the pace of 22.79 and 45.49 seconds, set by City Zip and Balto Star. Valdivia kept Val Royal off the rail on the backstretch and moved him to the outside of the field midway on the turn, racing five wide at one point.

Forbidden Apple, who was fourth along the rail on the backstretch, challenged City Zip turning for home when Balto Star dropped back. Forbidden Apple took the lead in mid-stretch and led by 1 1/2 lengths past the eighth pole. But back in the field, Val Royal was finishing fast.

"I didn't want to weave through traffic," Valdivia said. "When I turned for home, I had all the confidence in the world. When he switched leads, he gave me such a kick."

Val Royal took the lead in the final sixteenth and won comfortably by 1 3/4 lengths.

Forbidden Apple, who won the Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park on Oct. 6, held second, finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Bach, a European invader.

Irish Prize finished fourth, followed by Navesink, Brahms, Noverre, Sarafan, City Zip, Express Tour, Affirmed Success, and Balto Star.

Noverre was a lukewarm favorite at 4-1. A Group 1-winning European import, Noverre finished 4 3/4 lengths behind Val Royal.

Val Royal was bred in France where he won three stakes. Purchased privately by Milch in the summer of 1999, Val Royal won the Del Mar Derby in his United States debut, but was sidelined a month later when a lesion was detected in a tendon.

He returned this year at 5 and finished second in the Grade 2 Kilroe Mile in March at Santa Anita, but emerged from the race with a quarter crack.

Seven months later, off only six workouts, according to Canani, Val Royal won the Oak Tree Mile. "He does amazing things in the morning," Canani said. "He has so much talent it's scary."

Both horse and rider have Breeders' Cup Mile connections in their family. The sire of Val Royal, Royal Academy, won the 1990 Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park. Valdivia is the nephew of retired jockey Fernando Toro, who won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Mile in 1984 aboard Royal Heroine.

"I guess I'm following in his footsteps," Valdivia said. "It's in my pedigree."

The victory was the second Grade 1 win of Valdivia's career, coming a month after Tali'sluckybusride won the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita.

"It's been my breakout year," said Valdivia. "If this puts me on the national map, I hope it doesn't stop here."