11/01/2007 12:00AM

Cal Cup Sprint: Bilo fast and classy, but rarely runs

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - Bilo heads into the $150,000 California Cup Sprint on Saturday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting with a lofty reputation clouded by a number of question marks.

At six furlongs, the distance of the Sprint might not be ideal. The synthetic surface at Santa Anita is a concern, since he has yet to race over it. Yet Bilo has a history of running well fresh, and is the only horse in the Sprint with a Grade 1 win on his re'sume', so he figures to attract plenty of support.

It will up to handicappers to decide whether he is a standout on both speed and class, or - at age 7, with just 14 starts to his name - a vulnerable contender. Johnny Eves and Wind Water, both with sharp recent wins against softer company, are among those offering tempting alternatives in one of the most intriguing races on the Cal Cup card.

Bilo has a chance to be the betting favorite in the field of nine, and he will be a sentimental favorite. His owner, Ed Nahem, died Wednesday night after a lengthy illness.

Bilo has raced just three times this year after being away for 17 months. In his most recent start, on July 7, he led from start to finish and won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park. Bilo was scheduled to race this summer at Del Mar, but his trainer, Marty Jones, had to alter plans.

"He was getting ready for the Pat O'Brien," Jones said Thursday morning, "but we were having trouble with his feet, so we had to back off him. He came back to Hollywood Park, we took our time, and his feet are good."

The Triple Bend is at seven furlongs. Bilo is shortening up for the Cal Cup Sprint. However, he did win a six-furlong race at Del Mar in August 2005 off a six-month layoff.

"The distance might be a little sharp for him," Jones acknowledged. "Seven-eighths is a good distance for him. He runs well fresh. But he hasn't run in awhile. It's tough to find spots for a horse with no allowance conditions."

Johnny Eves has won 2 of his last 3 starts, and most recently scored a fast win against a first-level allowance field. He will be making his stakes debut while starting from the rail for the third straight race.

"He's getting a lot of practice from the rail," his trainer, Jay Robbins, said. "I wish he was drawn outside a little. There's a lot of speed in there. He can rate, but I don't know that you want to rate from the rail. I think the options are pretty limited."

Wind Water has won two straight since being claimed for $62,500 at Del Mar by trainer Jeff Mullins. Those two races were on conventional dirt, at Fairplex and Bay Meadows. Garrett Gomez takes over as his rider.

"He seems to be a step or two better on dirt," Mullins said. "He's got a lot of speed, but if we need to stalk, we've got the perfect rider for that scenario. He's drawn outside. He can view everything."