10/23/2003 12:00AM

Special Ring's last may not be best indicator


ARCADIA, Calif. - Given the recent history of the Breeders' Cup Mile, Special Ring deserves strong consideration in Saturday's $1.5 million race at Santa Anita.

Given the gelding's disappointing performance in his last start, bettors may dismiss his chances in a remarkably talented field of 14.

Special Ring is trained by Julio Canani, who won the Mile with Silic in 1999 and Val Royal in 2001.

Special Ring was only fourth in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita on Oct. 5, leaving some to question whether he will be at his best on Saturday.

Canani insists that Special Ring will rebound from the loss, which he blamed on race tactics. To prove Canani correct, Special Ring must beat a field the includes the European invaders Oasis Dream, Refuse to Bend, and Six Perfections, and top North American hopefuls Designed for Luck, Peace Rules, Perfect Soul, and Touch of the Blues.

"This is the most difficult race on the whole card to handicap," Canani said.

Pace and racing luck will be major factors in the outcome, which is why Canani and Vladimir Cerin, who trains Designed for Luck, love their chances. Designed for Luck won the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile in his third start after returning to racing following a career-threatening hock injury suffered in May 2002.

Designed for Luck had an ideal trip in the Oak Tree Mile under jockey Patrick Valenzuela, stalking the pace, kicking clear in early stretch and outlasting BC Mile entrant Sarafan.

"He's got tactical speed," Cerin said of Designed for Luck. "If no one goes, he can be on the lead. If they go, he can stalk. With P. Val, you can find a way out."

In the moments after the Oak Tree Mile, Canani was furious. Having won the Eddie Read Handicap by five lengths at Del Mar in late July, Special Ring was heavily favored, but he never threatened Designed for Luck.

Ridden by David Flores, Special Ring was five lengths off the pace until he launched a rally that closed the gap to 2 1/4 lengths at the finish

"One race is not a whole campaign," Canani said. "We tried to experiment and took a hold."

Canani blames himself for the loss, but was also frustrated by Flores's tactics.

"I was mad at me more than him," Canani said. "When the horse broke a little slow, he overdid it. It's a blessing. I didn't want to run that hard 20 days before a race."

Special Ring is ideally drawn in the Mile, starting from post 6. Flores is back aboard and may opt to take the lead, but he could face pressure from Oasis Dream, the English sprinter who must show speed to avoid a wide trip from post 10.

"He's going to be on his game," Canani said. "The horse is happy."

A trio of European 3-year-olds - Oasis Dream, Six Perfections and Refuse to Bend - have excellent chances to upset the North American team.

Oasis Dream won Group 1 sprints over five and six furlongs in England this summer. Trained by John Gosden, Oasis Dream will be making his first start at a mile. The key will be a sharp break.

"You have to break well or you'll get smothered," Gosden said. "For him, it's all about adapting to the style of racing."

Six Perfections will be ridden for the first time by Jerry Bailey. Never worse than second in nine starts in Europe, Six Perfections, a 3-year-old filly, typically races in mid-pack and will race on a left-handed course for the first time on Saturday.

Refuse to Bend has impressed Irish trainer Dermot Weld, who expects a performance similar to the colt's win in the English 2000 Guineas in May. "He will run a huge race," Weld said.

It will take that sort of effort from any of the 14 entrants to win the Breeders' Cup Mile.