09/18/2006 12:00AM

Victory signals the arrival of Becrux


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Becrux, named after the second-brightest star in the galaxy of Crux, became a star of the first magnitude here in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Woodbine Mile.

A 4-year-old who began his career in Italy, Becrux had won a couple of minor stakes in California since being purchased by Team Valor Stable and Gary Barber for $1 million, but he has suddenly blossomed into a major player in the turf division.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Becrux had shipped to Woodbine on Aug. 21 and stayed on following his second-place finish in the Grade 2 Play the King over seven furlongs of "good" going here Aug. 26.

"We were very encouraged by the way he ran on the soft grass," said Drysdale, who was here for the Woodbine Mile but returned to California on Sunday evening. "We knew that he didn't like soft grass. And the horse has been doing very well since he got to beautiful Woodbine."

Drysdale has good reason to be generous in his praise of Woodbine. Becrux represented his third winner in the Woodbine Mile.

Becrux will remain here to prepare for Keeneland's Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile on Oct. 7.

"We'll just leave him there until Keeneland opens up," said Drysdale, adding that the Breeders' Cup Mile is not an option, since Becrux would have to be supplemented.

Being a gelding also seems to have helped Becrux's racing performance. He is now 2 for 3 since being gelded this spring.

"We thought this was a good horse when we bought him," said Team Valor's Barry Irwin. "We sent him to Dubai to train, and our top trainer there told us, putting it nicely, that he wasn't what we thought he was. We brought him to the United States, he never really panned out, and it occurred to me that the only way we were going to get anywhere with this horse was to geld him. He wasn't being genuine."

Drysdale to get Streets Ahead

Streets Ahead, another Team Valor acquisition, will be joining Drysdale's string after finishing fourth in his North American debut Sunday in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes for 2-year-olds.

Trained in England by Andrew Balding, who was here to saddle Streets Ahead for the summer, Streets Ahead will stay at Woodbine until he heads to Kentucky along with Becrux.

According to Irwin, Streets Ahead should make his next appearance in the Grade 1, $500,000 Lane's End Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 7. The 1 1/16-mile Lane's End will be run on Keeneland's new Polytrack surface.

"We'll train him at Woodbine, on the Polytrack, and see how he does," said Drysdale.

Last-minute call gave P. Val the ride

Patrick Valenzuela was effusive in his gratefulness to the unseen powers above during a horseback interview, conducted by Woodbine's Renee Kierans, following his victory aboard Becrux.

But Valenzuela had expanded his circle of thanks to include Irwin, Barber, and Drysdale by the time he appeared in a postrace conference several minutes later.

Valenzuela may have been more correct in the first instance, since his appearance here on Becrux was of a rather miraculous order.

Riding for the first time since July 16, after having returned to galloping horses just 10 days earlier, Valenzuela inherited the mount on Becrux when scheduled rider Corey Nakatani was unable to make the trip because of a minor training injury.

Valenzuela did not learn until late Saturday morning that he would have the opportunity to ride Becrux at Woodbine.

"I'd worked six at Hollywood [Saturday]," said Valenzuela. "Then I got the call. Mr. Irwin, Mr. Barber, and Mr. Drysdale wanted me to ride him."

Figures show mixed results

Handle on the Woodbine Mile was marginally up, at $1,172,628 compared to $1,067,756 last year, but the handle for the entire card was slightly down, at $4,574,005 compared to $4,713,910 last year.

Sunday's card also featured Woodbine's first guaranteed pools. There was a $50,000 guaranteed pool for the first Win 4, on races 4 through 7, and a $100,000 guaranteed pool for races 6 through 9.

The first Win 4 handily exceeded the guarantee, with a net pool of $76,284, but the second came up short, with a net pool of $90,008.

Woodbine's takeout on the Win 4 is 25 percent.