10/06/2001 11:00PM

Val's Royal king of Oak Tree Mile


ARCADIA, Calif. - More than two years after his career was threatened by a tendon injury, Val Royal joined the list of contenders for the Breeders' Cup Mile with a striking victory in Sunday's $219,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

The Grade 2 Oak Tree Mile was the most impressive victory of Val Royal's career.

Ridden by Jose Valdivia, Jr., for trainer Julio Canani, Val Royal closed from last and outfinished Thady Quill, running a mile on turf in 1:33.21. I've Decided finished third, followed by Smile Again, Redattore, Spinelessjellyfish and Lonesome Dude.

Val Royal's late kick impressed Valdivia, who was aboard for the 5-year-old's previous start, a second in the Frank Kilroe Mile last March.

Val Royal was as many as six lengths behind the frontrunning I've Decided before rallying to the inside of Lonesome Dude in early stretch. Val Royal took the lead in the final furlong.

"I got through at the quarter pole when Lonesome Dude drifted out," Valdivia said. "He really quickened. In the last sixteenth, he was goofing off and looking at the crowd."

Owned by David Milch, Val Royal has made three starts since arriving in the U.S. in the summer of 1999. A three-time stakes winner in France, Val Royal won the Del Mar Derby in 1999 but suffered a bowed tendon that fall. He returned to training last winter. "We gave him so much time, more than a year," Milch said.

His most recent layoff was caused by a quarter crack, but Canani said he would like to try the Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park on Oct. 27.

"If he comes back in good shape, I'd like to go," Canani said. "It depends on the next week."