08/03/2002 12:00AM

Special Ring has Canani thinking Cup

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DEL MAR, Calif. - A record-setting win by Special Ring in Friday's $77,075 Wickerr Handicap left trainer Julio Canani dreaming of a third win in the Breeders' Cup Mile later this year. Special Ring lowered the course record for one mile on turf to 1:32.72 with an emphatic two-length win in the restricted stakes.

"What a race he ran," Canani said. "He exploded."

On Saturday, Canani said that Special Ring will be pointed for the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile on Oct. 5. Canani won the Oak Tree Mile in 1999 with Silic and last year with Val Royal. Both later won the Breeders' Cup Mile.

While Special Ring has never won a graded stakes, he has won four of his last five starts, all over a mile on turf. Before the Wickerr, Special Ring customarily raced on the lead. On Friday, he was rated by jockey David Flores in third or fourth for the first six furlongs before launching a wide rally that quickly put him in front.

"He wasn't pulling," Canani said. "I told David to break and don't send him. Let him relax. He did it perfectly." Special Ring finished two lengths in front of Touch of the Blues, who was a neck in front of Fateful Dream.

Owned by William Preston, Special Ring was gelded last summer and has had a career turnaround since the start of 2002. Last fall, Canani was discouraged by Special Ring's form after the gelding. He even started the

5-year-old in a $95,000 claiming race at Santa Anita in January, where he was third. Canani said that Special Ring's mental behavior improved earlier this year along with results on the racetrack.

"It took him six months to really change," Canani said. "Some horses it works right away when they are gelded, other take time."

New turf much faster

Special Ring was the second horse to set a course record on turf in the first nine days of the meeting. On July 27, Arbiter set a record over 1 3/8 miles - 2:12.32. The fast times are not a surprise to Leif Dickinson, the turf course superintendent at Santa Anita who serves as a turf course advisor to Del Mar.

Dickinson said the course's kikuyu grass has been cut to a length of 1 3/4 inches, much shorter than the one-foot length that was customary until the 2001 season. Last year, there were no course records set on turf.

"It should be faster than it ever has because it's being maintained different," Dickinson said. "We don't want to set records. That's not the point. But if it's not broke, don't fit it. We do keep it firmer to avoid the divoting."

Dickinson said the course could be changed later this year to a Bermuda grass similar to what is used at Santa Anita out of concern that the kikuyu cannot handle wear and tear. He said three rail setting will be used at this meeting - normal, seven feet from the rail, and 14 feet from the rail - to spread the damage. "The kikuyu grows like a weed, but it doesn't have the wear tolerance," he said. "Hopefully, we'll be making a change."

Arbiter in Escondido

Arbiter may return in Wednesday's Escondido Stakes over 1 3/8 miles on turf, according to trainer Craig Lewis. The highlight of the racing week is Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap for fillies and mares over 1 1/16 miles. Azeri, the leading older female on the West Coast, will be a heavy favorite.

Buffythecenterfold, the winner of the Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 4, starts in Saturday's $150,000 Sorrento Stakes over 6 1/2 furlongs.

Californians venture to West Virginia

Four California-based 3-year-olds - Battler Bob, Calkins Road, Captain Squire, and Sunkosi - are being pointed for Saturday's $600,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park. Calkins Road won the Snow Chief Stakes on April 28, and was third in the Affirmed Handicap on June 23. Captain Squire won the Laz Barrera Stakes at Hollywood Park on May 27, and was second in the Carry Back Stakes at Calder on July 13. Sunkosi finished fourth in the first division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 24. Battler Bob, who worked seven furlongs in 1:29.20 at Hollywood Park on Saturday, finished fourth in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 14, his stakes debut.

* Total Impact, second in the $2 million United Arab Emirates Derby in March, was scratched from an allowance race on Sunday. He is no longer considered a candidate for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 25, according to trainer Laura de Seroux.