02/28/2002 12:00AM

Superstar turf milers prep for Dubai in Kilroe Mile


ARCADIA, Calif. - Between them, Val Royal and Irish Prize won two of the nation's biggest prizes for turf milers in 2001.

On March 23, the connections of the two horses are hoping to conquer the rest of the world in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free in the Middle East. And on Saturday, they are using the $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita as a prep for that race.

But the Grade 2 Kilroe is more than just a stepping-stone to Dubai. The Kilroe has drawn an outstanding field of 12, several of whom are capable of upsetting the big two if they falter.

Not to be dismissed are such horses as No Slip, a troubled fourth in the San Gabriel Handicap on Dec. 30; Designed for Luck, the impressive winner of an allowance race on Jan. 26; and Decarchy, the two-length winner of the Grade 3 Tanforan Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 9.

Understandably, bettors will focus on Val Royal and Irish Prize. Val Royal has not started since winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last October at Belmont Park. A month later, he was entered for the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park, but was scratched on the day of the race when rain softened the course.

Trainer Julio Canani said Val Royal was given a 10-day after being scratched, but has been in training since early December. Canani said Val Royal's recent behavior at the barn suggests he is in good form.

"He's about ready to eat somebody," Canani said.

Val Royal thrives off a layoff. He finished second in the 2001 Kilroe, following an 18-month break because of a tendon injury. Last October, he won the Oak Tree Mile after six months away because of a foot problem.

Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., Val Royal will break from post 7 and will likely be at the back of the field for the first half-mile. In the Breeders' Cup, Val Royal made an eye-catching move on the turn to reach contention in early stretch before drawing off to win by 1 3/4 lengths.

"We didn't change anything, that's the way the horse runs," Canani said.

Irish Prize won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile last June and finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, losing by four lengths. Since returning to California, he has been in top form for trainer Neil Drysdale.

The 6-year-old Irish Prize finished third in the Citation Handicap, but rebounded to win the San Gabriel Handicap on Dec. 30 and the San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on Jan. 21.

Drysdale said the cutback in distance should suit Irish Prize as he prepares for Dubai.

"I don't think the distance will be a problem," he said. "This race is a perfect jumping-off point for him."