ARCADIA, Calif. -- Wilko has had more surgeries than victories since he won the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park.
The 5-year-old returns from his latest setback, a severe case of colic last fall, to start in an optional claimer over a mile on turf at Santa Anita on Saturday.
For his ever-optimistic connections - owner Paul Reddam and trainer Craig Dollase - the comeback race is a chance for Wilko to break a 13-race losing streak dating back to the BC Juvenile and show that this winner of more than $2.4 million can be competitive at racing's highest level.
"Maybe this is the year for him," Dollase said. "He seems like he's got his spunk back."
Dollase had tried to enter Wilko in an allowance race on dirt in recent days, but the race did not fill. Dollase sees Saturday's race as a potential prep to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 3.
Last year, Wilko finished third in the Santa Anita Handicap and followed with a third-place finish in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. He was later promoted to second in the Dubai World Cup after original runner-up Brass Hat failed a drug test.
Saturday's race is Wilko's first start on turf since he finished third in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes in England in September 2004, his last start before the BC Juvenile.
"We're going to use this race as a tightener for bigger and better things," Dollase said. "We'd like to run him on the dirt but it didn't fill. This race came up at a flat mile. I don't think the turf will bother him too much."
Wilko is making his first start for Dollase since the 2006 Big Cap. He started for Jeremy Noseda in the Dubai World Cup and a fifth-place finish in the Met Mile at Belmont Park in May. Wilko made two starts for Mark Hennig in New York last summer, finishing seventh and sixth, before being sent back to California.
Last September, Wilko was being sent to a clinic for a physical examination when he was stricken with colic that required surgery. In the summer of 2005, he underwent ankle surgery to have a bone chip removed.
The diminutive horse has impressed Dollase in recent weeks with his training over Hollywood Park's synthetic surface.
"It will help a horse that has feet issues," Dollase said of the surface.
"I've got to get his form back to what it was in the past. He hasn't won, but he's always been right there."
Wilko has seven opponents in the optional claimer but none are millionaires. Beneath the Radar and Macduff won optional claimers in their last starts.
Big Cap field taking shape
Wilko is one of 11 candidates for the Santa Anita Handicap over 1 1/4 miles, the richest race of the meeting.
The potential field is led by defending champion Lava Man, who won his first start of the year in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf here Jan. 27. Arson Squad, the winner of the Strub Stakes on Feb. 3, and Molengao, the upset winner of the San Antonio Handicap on Feb. 4, are also being pointed for the Big Cap.
Other possible starters are Awesome Gem, Ball Four, Brother Derek, El Roblar, Majestic Stream, McCann's Mojave, and Spring at Last.
Texcess, the winner of the California Cup Classic last October, will pass the Big Cap and be pointed for the $100,000 Tokyo City Handicap here on March 31, trainer Mike Mitchell said. Texcess finished ninth behind McCannn's Mojave in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 27.
Midnight Lute, who finished fourth as the favorite in the Strub Stakes, will be given a break and considered for the $400,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes at Keeneland on April 14, trainer Bob Baffert said.
Cash Included makes 2007 debut
The Reddam-Dollase team are hoping that Cash Included can rebound from a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs last November in Saturday's $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita.
The Grade 1 Las Virgenes is Cash Included's first start in a campaign that Reddam and Dollase hope will lead to a return to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.
Winning that race will not be easy, and neither will wining the Las Virgenes, which has drawn eight stakes winners.
"I think I have a good bottom in her training and plenty of work," Dollase said. "Are the screws fairly tight? I have no complaints. She seems to come out of her works well. We know she likes the track."
Cash Included won the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Breeders' Cup Stakes here at the Oak Tree meeting in late September, her first start after being acquired by Reddam in September.
In the BC Juvenile Fillies, she was seventh early and finished 7 1/2 lengths behind the champion Dreaming of Anna.
"She broke flat-flooted and was never in the race," Dollase said.
Solis gets three-day suspension
Jockey Alex Solis has been suspended for three racing days, Feb. 11, 14, and 15, for causing interference in the fourth race last Saturday.
Solis rode Kalookan Dancer who was disqualified from second to fourth for causing interference in the stretch.
* Jockey Aaron Gryder has dropped an appeal of a three-day suspension issued during the Hollywood Park fall meeting in December. Gryder's original suspension days were issued for the first three days of this meeting, which included several stakes. The revised dates are Feb. 14-16, which does not include any major stakes.