10/28/2005 12:00AM

A runner with all the right moves

Leroidesanimaux trains recently under Nuno Santo. The Brazilian-bred, trained by Bobby Frankel, has won his last eight races.

ELMONT, N.Y. - He is not a particularly tall horse. There are horses that arrest the eye with their bulk, the sheer space they take up, the amazing length of their stride. Think Tiznow and Pleasantly Perfect. Leroidesanimaux is not that. He is like a halfback, about 5-11, 225 pounds, with an explosive burst through the line of scrimmage. He is a rich chestnut with a handsome white diamond on his forehead. And he has become unbeatable.

Leroidesanimaux is 3 for 3 this season, and won his last five starts in 2004. Eight in a row, the last of them the most electrifying performance in a major turf race in who knows how long: a 7 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Atto Mile. The Breeders' Cup Mile is supposed to be the province of classy Europeans, but this year the spotlight shines on a Brazilian-bred who emigrated to California and has trained in New York the second half of this year. Even the Europeans like Leroidesanimaux: The English bookmaking house William Hill lists him as an even-money favorite to win the Mile, the second-shortest price of the Breeders' Cup behind Lost in the Fog.

"I can't tell you that I'm surprised at this," said Goncalo Torrealba, the Brazilian businessman whose T N T Stud owns Leroides-animaux. "We've been working hard over the last several years to breed South American horses who can come to the U.S. and win Grade 1 races."

Torrealba lives in Rio de Janeiro, but T N T Stud sits in las pampas, the plains of Bage in the southern region of Brazil. The land lies close to both Uruguay and Argentina and is the cradle of horse country in South America. A friend of Torrealba's mated the top sire Candy Stripes with an English-bred mare named Dissemble, but the breeder died and dispersed his stock not long after Leroidesanimaux was born. Torrealba bought him as a weanling. Now he is the apple of his eye.

"It's a fantastic feeling with a horse like this," Torrealba said. "It's like when your daughter or your son goes to their first swimming competition."

The trainer Bobby Frankel is from Brooklyn, not Brazil. He started training for T N T Stud about three years ago.

"At the beginning, I didn't have a clue," Frankel said. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into. The Brazilians are a lot better than I thought they'd be."

But they have to be the right Brazilians. Purse money in Brazil, in American dollars at least, is peanuts. Smaller racing venues, many dirt races, and even some of the graded stakes, Torrealba said, produce winners of suspect quality. But when the right horse turns in the right performance in one of the country's top events, Torrealba does not hesitate.

"Three weeks later," he said, "they're on a plane to the U.S."

That Leroidesanimaux - French for "king of the animals" - possessed special qualities became clear before he ever made the races. His career debut in January 2003, however, was a bust, a distant sixth-place finish in a dirt sprint.

"First time out, it was everything wrong," Torrealba said.

But when Leroidesanimaux showed up on turf four months later, he won by more than 11 lengths, earning a spot in Brazil's most important 2-year-old race. He finished second, but a troubled second, and Torrealba is entitled to believe he ran the best horse on the day, since the only one ahead of Leroidesanimaux was Ay Caramba. Owned by another friend of Torrealba, Ay Caramba has also landed in the Frankel shed row. He and Leroidesanimaux worked together this week, but Ay Caramba is not in Leroidesanimaux's class.

Who is? Leroidesanimaux lost his U.S. debut in January 2004 - and no one has beaten him since.

Frankel does not waste starts with a top-class horse. His approach: Why use an allowance race as a stepping-stone when you have the confidence to train a horse right into the main event? But that philosophy did not at first apply to Leroidesanimaux. Frankel placed him in three straight allowance races, then stuck to Grade 3's until the last start of 2004. And only once in his first six U.S. races was Leroidesanimaux the favorite, highly unusual for a horse that Frankel believes is a star.

Torrealba said Frankel told him last fall that Leroidesanimaux was special, but the depth of his talent was not clear earlier in 2004.

"He's just not that aggressive in the morning," Frankel said. "If you put him in company, he can be. I wasn't sure how good he was, really."

Whatever hoop Frankel threw at Leroidesanimaux, the horse jumped through it. He won the Grade 3's and won the Grade 1 Citation Handicap last November when Frankel stepped him up. He won coming from behind a slow pace in the Citation; he won dueling on the lead through a fast pace in the Kilroe Mile. He would run fast early in a race and come flying home his final quarter-mile. And after Leroidesanimaux won the Kilroe in March, Frankel started glancing toward the end of the racing calendar.

"If you keep running in these races all year, you're not going to be around for the Breeders' Cup," he said.

Thus, Leroidesanimaux did not race between March and August and shifted his base from California to New York. Then came a useful win in the Fourstardave at Saratoga and the trip to Canada for the Atto Mile.

"Those were some decent horses in there," Frankel said, "and he embarrassed them. That was his first time on a soft course, and I think he favors it. It was the first time he really ran away from horses in the stretch."

Torrealba, clearly a man of restraint, couldn't help chuckling when he recalled the Atto. "Oh, that was a lot of fun," he said.

Torrealba has been to the Breeders' Cup once before, finishing second with Cara Rafaela in the 1995 Juvenile Fillies. This time, he will be expected to take home the trophy. And if you catch a close look at his horse, you can see why.