07/30/2009 12:00AM

Colonel John returns on turf in Wickerr

Tod Marks
Colonel John (right) edges Mambo in Seattle at the wire in last year's Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

DEL MAR, Calif. - More than seven months since his last start and 11 months since his last win, four-time stakes winner Colonel John is back for Friday's $85,000 Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar.

The Wickerr is run at a mile on turf and will be Colonel John's first start on the surface. That was not trainer Eoin Harty's intention, but Harty needs Colonel John in action now to be ready for the major stakes of the late summer and fall.

"I would have preferred the main track, but it's a good place to come back without running in a graded stakes," Harty said. "I think he's 100 percent, even without the benefit of a race."

Harty said the Wickerr is Colonel John's prep for the $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on Sept. 5 or the $1 million Pacific Classic here Sept. 6.

Owned by WinStar Farm, Colonel John has not started since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita in December. His last win was the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga last August.

In the Wickerr, Colonel John is part of a field of 12 that will be limited to 10 starters. Get Funky and Pams Pompallier are stuck on the also-eligible list.

Colonel John will be tested in the Wickerr, which is restricted to nonwinners of a stakes worth $50,000 at a mile or longer since May 1. The field includes the millionaire 7-year-old gelding Becrux; Sky Cape, who won the La Jolla Handicap here last summer; and the Argentine import Generalito Nain.

Becrux was third in an allowance race at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on June 27, a result that was flattered when race winner Awesome Gem returned to finish second in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap last Saturday.

Becrux is the oldest horse in the field and is seeking his first win since October.

"You can't turn back the clock," trainer John Sadler said. "He's pretty dependable."

Generalito Nain won a minor stakes over about a mile on turf in Argentina on April 29, his third win in 10 career starts. A 5-year-old, Generalito Nain was 11th in the 2007 Argentine Derby.

Trainer Darrell Vienna said that sometimes South American imports "need a run" before they have acclimated to racing in the Northern Hemisphere."He's adjusted very quickly," Vienna said of Generalito Nain.