The enigmatic Wilko returns to action this weekend.

The enigmatic Wilko returns to action this weekend.

Skip Dickstein

Wilko Surprise Entrant in San Antonio 'Cap

(from Santa Anita reports)
Wilko, a 4-year-old who has been winless since upsetting Afleet Alex in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), is a surprise entrant in Santa Anita's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) on Sunday after also being named for Saturday's Strub Stakes (gr. II).

Trainer Craig Dollase planned to keep his options until the zero hour before choosing between the nine-furlong events, but decided Saturday morning to run in the San Antonio, although the Strub is worth $50,000 more and restricted to 4-year-olds.

With the Super Bowl on Sunday, Santa Anita will stage its first of nine races at 11 a.m.

Wilko face eight older horses with 116-pound high weight Buckland Manor the likely favorite. Buckland Manor lost to High Limit by a nose in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 7, and is still in search of his first graded stakes win.

When Wilko won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park, it was his first United States start after 10 races in England, and he was dismissed at odds of 28-1. He followed with solid third-place finishes in a pair of grade I races, the Hollywood Futurity and Santa Anita Derby.

Wilko, however, went to the sidelines after poor efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (both gr. I). Since returning to action in December, Wilko has been defeated in a pair of sprint stakes. The Kentucky-bred, owned by J. Paul Reddam and Susan Roy, shows lifetime earnings of $1,046,574 from a record of 3-2-7 in 18 starts. Garrett Gomez would take over the ride on Wilko in the San Antonio.

Buckland Manor also will undergo a rider change with Victor Espinoza. Trained by Paco Gonzalez, the 6-year-old son of Bien Bien has earned $467,320 for Trudy McCaffery and John Toffan with a 6-4-4 record in 21 races.

After two close third-place finishes in graded races in his last two starts, Spellbinder seems on the verge of breaking through. At least that's the hope of Martin Pedroza, who rides the Tale of the Cat  horse for Richard Mandella.

"He's a gutsy little horse," Pedroza said. "Once he takes the lead, he's tough. He won't let horses go by that easy. He's really game. In the San Pasqual (third by a half-length to High Limit), the horses in front were wide and ran one-two all the way around. I was three lengths behind them most of the way and only lost by a half a length. I made up ground and thought I was going to get there."

Spellbinder, a 5-year-old owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss, has a 4-1-4 record from 17 starts with earnings of $198,129.

San Antonio Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 2:35 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. With Distinction (KY), 115, Javier Santiago
2. Spellbinder (KY), 114, Martin Pedroza
3. Mambo Train (KY), 112, Tyler Baze
4. Stratostar (KY), 113, Jon Court
5. Wilko (KY), 114, Garrett Gomez
6. Bully Hayes (KY), 114, Alex Solis
7. Turnbolt (VA), 114, Corey Nakatani
8. Capitano (PA), 113, David Flores
9. Buckland Manor (KY), 116, Victor Espinoza