Wilko, the 2004 Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner making his first start since the Preakness (gr. I) May 21, finished a game third in a three-horse photo finish to Saturday's $60,800 Larkspur Stakes for 3-year-olds at Golden Gate Fields.
Loyalton, ridden by Russell Baze, held on to win the six-furlong event by a nose over Seattles Best Joe, with Wilko, the 6-5 favorite, a head behind the runner-up. The winning time was a swift 1:08 2/5 on a fast track.
Corey Nakatani rode Wilko, who was last of seven after a quarter-mile and moved up approaching the turn. He was four wide coming off the turn and closed well but just missed under a stiff hand ride.
"They went too slow early and it killed us," said Nakatani. "We wanted him to settle and make a run. I got him motoring but it was just two noses too short. There's no disgrace in getting beat in 1:08 2/5 in your first race back from a layoff. They came home strong and he was making up ground. I think he got what he needed out of this race. It should have him all set for the Malibu."
Trainer Craig Dollase said prior to the race that Wilko needed a prep race and is being pointed to Santa Anita Park's Strub series, which begins with the Malibu (gr. I) for 3-year-olds on Dec. 26. The chestnut colt by Awesome Again
was eased in a 12th-place finish in the Preakness (gr. I) in his last start. He subsequently underwent surgery for removal of a bone chip in his right ankle.
Wilko, who was sixth in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), has lost six races in a row since his three-quarter-of-a-length win over Afleet Alex at Lone Star Park in the 2004 Juvenile at odds of 28-1.
Loyalton, a California-bred son of Wild Gold, had a maiden win to show in five starts for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer prior to his win Saturday. He went off at odds of 12-1. Seattles Best Joe, ridden by Kevin Krigger, was the 3-1 second choice.