Updated on 09/15/2011 2:30PM

Val Royal makes late bid for Eclipse

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Val Royal wins the Breeders' Cup Mile four weeks ago. Expect him to come from far back in Sunday's Citation.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The tendon injury that kept Val Royal sidelined for more than a year is behind him, replaced with the memory of a flashy come-from-behind victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile last month at Belmont Park.

On a day of outstanding performances in the World Thoroughbred Championships, Val Royal's victory was among the finest, and it placed him among the world's top turf milers.

On Saturday, Val Royal returns in the $500,000 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park, and he will start as a strong favorite in a large field. A victory would be his third consecutive major stakes win of the autumn, a streak that began in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita last month. A win in the Citation would enhance Val Royal's chance of earning the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf horse. His main competition for that award is Breeders' Cup Turf winner Fantastic Light.

Four weeks have passed since Val Royal won the Mile, but his participation in the Citation was not certain until last Tuesday, when he worked to the satisfaction of trainer Julio Canani.

"After the last race, he lost a little weight, but now he looks better than he did in New York," Canani said. "If there is anything I don't like, he won't run."

Despite that comment, Canani expects Val Royal to start in the Citation, run over 1 1/16 miles on turf. The race is the highlight of Saturday's program, which also includes the $200,000 Generous Stakes for 2-year-olds on turf.

Val Royal will break from post 2 against 12 opponents. Typical of his style, the 5-year-old Val Royal will not be a factor early, and may be last early under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr.

Noting that Val Royal was near the back of the field entering the stretch of the Mile, Canani said: "I want him to be last."

There should be ample pace to help Val Royal's late kick.

I've Decided, third to Val Royal in the Oak Tree Mile, and Purely Cozzene, a longshot, will both be near the lead, closely followed by El Cielo, an outstanding turf sprinter.

I've Decided and El Cielo are part of a three-horse entry, along with Good Journey. The entry, coupled due to common ownership, is likely to be second choice in the betting behind Val Royal.

The 13-horse field will have only 10 betting interests, because there is a second entry, which comprises Lord Jim and Sarafan. Both are owned by Gary Tanaka.

Lord Jim, a multiple stakes winner in Argentina, was third in the Live the Dream Handicap at Del Mar for trainer Carla Gaines.

In the three-horse entry, Wally Dollase trains Good Journey and I've Decided, while his son, Craig, trains El Cielo.

El Cielo looks strongest of that group, having won the Morvich Handicap on the Santa Anita hillside turf course on Nov. 5. A 7-year-old, El Cielo is not just a sprinter. He won a one-mile turf race by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:33.32 at Santa Anita in January. His best chance may be to get first run on Val Royal.

"He'll have to come chase us down," Craig Dollase said. "I'm taking a shot routing, but he's done it well before."

Irish Prize, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile and the winner of the Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile here in June, will be well supported, as will Native Desert, the winner of the California Cup Mile.

Drysdale was not discouraged by Irish Prize's fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Ridden by Gary Stevens, Irish Prize broke from post 12, the far outside, and rallied on the inside to finish four lengths behind Val Royal.

"He had a bad draw," Drysdale said. "The ground was better on the outside."

With Stevens in Japan for Sunday's Japan Cup, Alex Solis rides Irish Prize in the Citation. Irish Prize breaks from post 11, which Drysdale says is not ideal.

"Poor old Irish Prize always draws the outside, but never mind," he said. "We'll just have to run a tick faster than Val Royal."