07/30/2002 11:00PM

Special Ring tries to fill big shoes


DEL MAR, Calif. - Special Ring has a major role to fill in trainer Julio Canani's barn.

Canani has won two of the last three runnings of the Breeders' Cup Mile with Silic (1999) and Val Royal (2001). This year, he is optimistic that Special Ring can make the same race at Arlington Park in October.

First, Special Ring tries to win his first stakes in two years in Friday's $75,000 Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar. A victory would propel Special Ring to the Atto Mile at Woodbine in September or the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita in October, a race that Val Royal won last year.

Canani may be guilty of thinking ahead, but that is how strongly he feels about Special Ring's potential.

"He has tons of ability," Canani said.

In the one-mile Wickerr, Special Ring is in a top field that includes Shibboleth and Touch of the Blues, both graded stakes winners this year; Sigfreto, the winner of two stakes last year; and Devine Wind, the runner-up in the American Handicap on July 4.

Special Ring has won three of his last four starts, the loss a sixth in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile on May 27. On July 7 at Hollywood Park, the 5-year-old Special Ring won a one-mile allowance race by 3 1/2 lengths in a quick 1:32.91.

Canani considered running him in the $400,000 Eddie Read Handicap last Sunday, but chose to wait.

"It was too close [to his last race]," Canani said of the Eddie Read.

Canani said Special Ring is a nervous horse, and sometimes is difficult to train.

"With a horse with his mind, I'd like to run him every month and a half," he said. "Everything upsets him."

If Special Ring bowls along in front, he will be tough to catch. If he is challenged early, or is mentally unprepared, many in the field of 10 can win.

Nicobar is capable of an upset. A 5-year-old trained by Ron McAnally, Nicobar won an allowance race on June 12, but was seventh in the American Handicap on July 4 after failing to find cover.

"The race he won was pretty impressive," McAnally said.

Nicobar is one of several contenders in a strong running of the Wickerr. Many of the entrants can win if they run back to recent races, but they will all be chasing Special Ring, who could be on his way to bigger things in the fall.

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