02/01/2007 1:00AM

Canani has two with shot at taking Aragorn's place


ARCADIA, Calif. - The retirement of top miler Aragorn last fall has left a vacancy in the California turf division. There are plenty of candidates hoping to take his place at the top of the rankings in that division.

Two races in coming weeks at Santa Anita will determine the horses to watch - Saturday's $75,000 Thunder Road Handicap and the $300,000 Frank Kilroe Mile, a Grade 1, on March 3.

For now, trainer Julio Canani appears to have an outstanding team for those races.

In the Thunder Road at a mile on turf, Canani starts Charmo and Porto Santo, who will start as an entry in the field of 10.

Charmo, 6, has not started since finishing second to Aragorn in the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park last May. Following that race, he had a bone chip removed from an ankle, Canani said.

"He's training super," Canani said. "He's doing exceptionally well."

Porto Santo has been one of the unluckier horses on this circuit. At Del Mar last summer he was a troubled second in a division of the Oceanside Stakes and was second in the La Jolla Handicap after a wide trip.

After finishing fourth in the Del Mar Derby at 1 1/8 miles, which may have been beyond his best distance, Porto Santo rebounded to win the restricted Bien Bien Stakes at Hollywood Park in November. He finished second in the Sir Beaufort Stakes here Dec. 26, once again closing from the back and racing wide.

"This horse is the most unlucky horse I've ever seen," Canani said. "Except for the derby, he should never have lost his races. I'm not trying to make excuses. Eventually, one of these days I'm going to win a Group 1 with the horse."

The field also includes Sweet Return, the winner of the 2004 Kilroe Mile, and Bayeux, who won the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs last November in his U.S. debut.

Wilko almost set to come back

Wilko, the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, is nearing a comeback following a severe bout with colic last year.

Thursday at Hollywood Park, Wilko worked six furlongs in 1:12.40, the fastest of 14 recorded works at the distance. "We're getting close," trainer Craig Dollase said.

Dollase said he does not have a specific goal in mind for Wilko, who has won 3 of 24 starts and $2,419,674.

Wilko, 6, is winless in 13 starts since the BC Juvenile but did finish third in the $6 million Dubai World Cup last March. He was later promoted to second after runner-up Brass Hat failed a drug test.

After the Dubai World Cup, Wilko lost three consecutive races on the East Coast with trainer Mark Hennig before being sent back to Dollase. Last summer, while being transported to a clinic for a physical examination, Wilko began suffering from colic. He underwent surgery and returned to training in the fall.

Mullins gets started on 2,000

Trainer Jeff Mullins went past the 1,000-win plateau last Sunday when A Shore Thing won a starter allowance.

Wednesday, he won the 1,001st race of his career with the maiden claimer Somthintomakeimrun ($7.40) and acquired arguably the most popular claimer in the barn area, Norway House.

On behalf of Adam Lewis, Mullins claimed Norway House for $25,000. Norway House finished fifth of six in the day's sixth race.

It was the sixth consecutive race from which Norway House had been claimed, a span that stretches back to September at Del Mar. Through the streak, Norway House has been claimed for as little as $16,000 and as much as $25,000.

Mullins envisions starting Norway House for $25,000 in the future. "I've talked to a few people that have had him and that's probably what he's worth," Mullins said. "I don't think he'll be a Choctaw Nation."

Mullins claimed Choctaw Nation in 2004 from a maiden claimer and developed the horse into a multiple stakes winner.