05/07/2008 12:00AM

Colonel John eyes Swaps


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Colonel John, the Santa Anita Derby winner who finished a troubled sixth in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday, will return to California in mid-May and is expected to start at the current Hollywood Park meeting, trainer Eoin Harty said Wednesday.

Colonel John is being given a rest at WinStar Farm in Kentucky and will return to Harty's base at Santa Anita in the "next 10 days," Harty said. The $100,000 Affirmed Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on June 15 and the $350,000 Swaps Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on July 12 are possibilities, with an emphasis on the Grade 2 Swaps.

"The Swaps is a serious consideration," Harty said. "Whether I run in the Affirmed, I'm not sure. He's an easy horse to keep fit and sound."

Owned by WinStar Farm, Colonel John finished 14 1/4 lengths behind Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown after being jostled through the stretch the first time and running six-wide on the turn. He was the 9-2 second choice in the betting.

Harty said Colonel John emerged from the race unscathed.

"He had a clean bill of health," he said. "He had a pretty rough trip and passed all the tests."

The Kentucky Derby was the worst performance of Colonel John's career. He has won 4 of 7 starts and $825,300.

The Swaps may also include Bob Black Jack and Gayego, California-based runners who finished 16th and 17th in the Kentucky Derby.

Bilo returns in Los Angeles Handicap

Bilo was held out of the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes on April 27 after trainer Mike Mitchell thought the race for California-breds at 7 1/2 furlongs would be too tough on the gelding after a three-month break.

Instead, Bilo will start in Saturday's $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap at six furlongs. The distance is a better fit, Mitchell said, but the competition is arguably tougher. Bilo must beat a field that includes defending champion Sailors Sunset, the multiple stakes winner Bonfante, and the improving Street Boss, who is making his stakes debut.

Bilo will be making his first start since finishing sixth in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita in January, a loss that earned him a brief rest.

"I turned him out for 30 days to freshen him up and give him some sunshine," Mitchell said.

In the Los Angeles Handicap, Bilo, 8, shares top weight of 119 pounds. He won two stakes last year for trainer Marty Jones - the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at seven furlongs in July and the California Cup Sprint at six furlongs in October. Last fall, Bilo was purchased privately by Scott and Wayne Anastasi and Dan Capen from the estate of breeder Ed Nahem and was turned over to Mitchell. Nahem died in October, days before Bilo won the California Cup Sprint.

The Los Angeles Handicap could lead to a defense of Bilo's title in the Triple Bend on Julyo5, Mitchell said.

"He wasn't ready for 7 1/2" furlongs, Mitchell said of the Tiznow Stakes. "I think 7 1/2 is tough for a horse after time off, and it's even tougher for a speed horse. If you're speed and you're being hooked from the get-go, that's hard on a horse.

"I chose to run in this race. I was able to give him another three-quarter-mile work. I've got him tightened up to run a winning race. I want to win, but I want to tighten him up for the Triple Bend."

Short field for Jim Murray Handicap

The Los Angeles Handicap is the third of three graded stakes on Saturday's 10-race program, which includes the $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf and the $100,000 Senorita Stakes at a mile on turf for 3-year-old fillies.

The Murray Handicap will be the shortest field on the card. There are five entrants, led by Santa Anita stakes winner Champs Elysees, but the race may have only four starters.

Mitchell said Church Service may be scratched and pointed for the $200,000 Dallas Turf Cup at 1 1/8 miles on turf on May 26.

Mitchell said On the Acorn, the defending champion in the Murray, will start in Saturday's race. The other entrants are Boule d'Or, winner of the San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita in March, and Sudan, who was eighth in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita in February in his U.S. debut.

High hopes for allowance runners

In the span of a week in January 2007, Exhale and Major Pleasure won maiden races at Santa Anita in a style that suggested they would become stakes winners. Neither of the 4-year-old colts has started at that level, but their respective trainers, John Sadler and Mike Puype, are hoping to use Friday's seventh race, a $51,000 allowance race at six furlongs, as a prep to such races.

Exhale is making his second start of the year, having finished sixth in an optional claimer at Santa Anita on April 14.

"He needed a race," Sadler said. "He's training well for this one."

Sadler was encouraged by Exhale's six-furlong workout in 1:10.20 last Saturday, the second-fastest of 16 recorded works at the distance. Sadler described the work as "outstanding."

Major Pleasure has not started since finishing fourth in an allowance race at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last fall. This will be his second comeback; he was off from February to October of last year, but did not suffer from a serious injury, Puype said.

"There have been some growing pains," Puype said. "I've always had high expectations. I'm sure he's better than he's shown."

The race has drawn a field of seven. Two other starters are coming off lengthy breaks. RoJ's Way, 6, makes his first start since June 2007. Soldier, 4, has not started since finishing sixth in the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita in January 2007.

* Diamond Diva, unbeaten in two stakes this year, will make her Grade 1 debut in the $250,000 Gamely Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf on May 26, trainer Jim Cassidy said. Diamond Diva won the American Beauty Stakes at Santa Anita in March and the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap here April 23.