10/29/2001 1:00AM

For want of a cap . . .

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ARCADIA, Calif. - A misplaced cap bearing the Mercedes-Benz logo cost trainer Julio Canani a chance at an even bigger payday Saturday when Val Royal won the Breeders' Cup Mile. Officials from Mercedes-Benz contacted Canani beforehand to arrange for Canani to wear the Mercedes-Benz cap in the televised post-race interview if Val Royal won. According to Canani, the financial incentive was significant.

However, in the chaotic celebration after Val Royal's victory, Canani forgot the cap and left it on the fourth floor of the Belmont Park grandstand. Oops.

"That's why I said [Val Royal] ran like a Mercedes; it was the only thing I could think of," Canani said.

He was hoping the automobile manufacturer would consider the verbal endorsement a sufficient alternative to wearing the cap, but as of Sunday Canani had not heard from Mercedes officials.

Meanwhile, at Santa Anita, it is business as usual for Canani. He won race 1 Sunday with Windy's Halo, a $10,000 claimer who won by 3 1/2 lengths and returned $2.80. On Wednesday, Canani will start the shortest price of the day - $50,000 claimer Audix in race 3, a mile turf race for 3-year-olds.

Abidjar finding his niche

Abidjar may have failed to meet expectations in his United States debut this summer at Del Mar, but he resurfaced this fall as a potentially useful sprinter. Just how useful will be determined Wednesday, when Abidjar is positioned to win for the first time in 14 months in the seventh race, an about 6 1/2-furlong sprint on the hillside turf course.

The two-other-than allowance-optional $80,000 claimer drew seven starters, and a case can be made for most of them. Hero's Welcome rises in class following an upset in his first try on the hill, while Lebontempsroulet drops in class and faces a softer pace scenario than he did finishing third last out. Trampus Too has a prep under his belt, while El Curioso and Daunting are late threats. Lucayan Prince will start as the outsider.

Abidjar's quality goes deeper than his latest start, a second-place finish under conditions identical to Wednesday's race. He raced as a 2-year-old last summer in Germany, and was purchased early this year by owner James Vreeland. Abidjar was gelded prior to his U.S. debut for trainer Kathy Walsh, but ran poorly at 3-1 in that race, the Relaunch Stakes at Del Mar.

At Santa Anita, Abidjar's attitude improved, his works became sharper, and he ran to his appearance in his first try down the hill Oct. 10. He pressed a strong pace, surged late, but was run down at the wire by a well-bet comebacker. A two-time winner from eight starts, Abidjar has trained well since, and figures for a comfortable trip Wednesay under Garrett Gomez.

Hero's Welcome also may have discovered his niche as a late-running sprinter. He scored a 12-1 upset Sept. 29 in a one-other-than allowance, benefiting from an extreme pace scenario that does not figure to be repeated Wednesday. Owned and bred by Marty and Pam Wygod, and trained by Dan Hendricks, Hero's Welcome must rally Wednesday from behind softer fractions. Eddie Delahousaye is up on Hero's Welcome.

Lebontempsroulet drops a notch after a good third-place finish in a three-other-than allowance-$100,000 optional claimer. He chased blistering fractions in that race, and the likelihood of a kinder pace on Wednesday suggests he could be the upsetter under Alex Solis.

Shot taken

Although Queenie Belle finished 10th as the longest shot in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, her trainer, Ben Cecil, was satisfied with the trip to New York. Queenie Belle, who could have run this Saturday in the $150,000 California Cup Matron, was scheduled to return Monday to Santa Anita, and Cecil said, "Even though she only ran five furlongs [in the Distaff], I'd be surprised if she ran this weekend."

As for the trip, "It was great. I was happy to see Jay [Robbins] win the Classic."

On Monday, Cecil turned his attention to California Cup Classic contender Figlio Mio, who worked five furlongs. The $250,000, 1 1/8-mile race will be Figlio Mio's first start since Sept. 2 and his first beyond mile. "I don't think [the layoff] is going to be a problem," he said. "This is the race I've been pointing for. The main obstacle is obviously the extra furlong, which he's never been. I've been giving him long gallops and it seems to be working. The horse is doing extremely well, he's improving."

Figlio Mio finished a head back of El Corredor in the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap last time out, earning a 114 Beyer Speed Figure. His main rivals in the Classic will be Romanceishope, a 3-year-old trained by Cecil's wife, Jenine Sahadi, and Longacres Mile winner Irisheyesareflying. Others expected include Grey Memo, Lily's Lad, Ben Saw San, Stormy Jack, Literal Prowler, and Flying Rudolph.

Forgive and forget

Spinelessjellyfish worked five furlongs Monday under Chris McCarron, and will start as one of the favorites Saturday in the $175,000 California Cup Mile. His trainer, Sahadi, suggests bettors forgive his most recent start. He finished sixth at 13-1 in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile, which was won by Val Royal.

"I didn't want him to lay his body down," Sahadi said of Spinelessjellyfish's effort in the Oak Tree Mile. "It looked like he was in tough and he was. He's doing terrific now."

Spinelessjellyfish will be a much shorter price Saturday. A 5-year-old, he has won nine races and $555,986 from 21 starts, including a dead heat victory Sept. 3 with Native Desert, who also is pointing for the Cal Cup Mile. Golden General also will be among the Mile starters.

More Cal Cup races

The seven-stakes, 10-race, all California-bred program Saturday will include these races:

* Sprint: Ceeband, who defeated Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Handicap in July at Hollywood Park, is expected to go favored in the six-furlong, $150,000 Sprint. Ceeband was bred by Tiznow's breeder, Cecilia Straub-Rubens, and won the California Sprint Championship last out at Bay Meadows. His rivals will include Men's Exclusive, Always Game, and Gibson County.

* Matron: The sentimental favorite will be Feverish, whose subpar recent form suggests she is vulnerable in the $150,000 filly-mare stakes at 1 1/16 miles. Feverish is a 6-year-old with 12 wins and earnings of $882,533 from 39 starts. Her rivals will include potential upsetter Jeweled Pirate, Grade 1 winner Notable Career, Covincing, Top of Our Game, and Lighten Up Tiny.

* Distaff: The retirement of 1999 and 2000 winner Chichim gives the $150,000 turf race at about 6 1/2 furlongs a new look. Expected starters include early favorites Global and Fair Apache, along with Serene in Seattle, Always the Lady, Storm Kisu, and Song of the Moment.

* Both $125,000 stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles will be weak. Juvenile probables are Debonair Joe, Peak of the Valley, Yougottawanna, and Sharpster. Juvenile Fillies probables include Moossa's Girl and Fragrant Cloud.

Better to be lucky . . .

Are lottery players gravitating toward horse racing? Perhaps, based on what happened Saturday at the San Bernardino simulcast outlet. Four of the 11 winning Breeders' Cup pick six tickets were sold in Southern California, including one each at Santa Anita, Hollyood Park, and Ventura. However, a bettor who hit the pick six at San Bernardino brings new meaning to the expression that it is better to be lucky than good.

The San Bernardino bettor hit the $262,442 pick six by using the "quick pick" mechanism on a self-service parimutuel machine. The quick-pick system allows the machine to select six numbers at random.