10/03/2001 12:00AM

El Cielo always tough off a layoff


ARCADIA, Calif. - El Cielo, the dominant turf sprinter in California last fall, returns from an eight-month break in a $58,000 allowance race on the hillside turf course on Friday at Santa Anita.

The 7-year-old El Cielo will be a short price to win his fourth consecutive race on the hillside course, a streak that includes an allowance race and the San Simeon Handicap in the spring of 2000, and the Morvich Handicap last November.

While not the most durable of horses - Friday's race will be his 18th start - El Cielo will be favored against four others, none of whom has won a stakes in this country in the last year.

Trained by Craig Dollase, El Cielo has won comeback races after his two most recent layoffs. He was off from April 1999 to January 2000, and returned with a victory in an allowance race down the hill. Last year, he had a six-month break between the San Simeon and Morvich handicaps.

"I've seen him work and he looks like his old self," jockey Jose Valdivia said. "Craig wouldn't bring him back if he wasn't right. I haven't worked him, but even before when I was riding him, I was probably only on his back three times in workouts."

El Cielo drew post 4 in a field that includes Stormy Jack, King Slayer, Islander, and Last Parade.

Islander has not started since winning a $62,500 claiming race over 5 1/2 furlongs on July 5. Trained by Ruben Cardenas, Islander is likely to set the pace in search of his third consecutive win.

Stormy Jack has been keeping the best company of those in the field. Second in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap last May, he won an allowance race over seven furlongs at Del Mar. Friday's race will be Stormy Jack's first start on turf since he won a division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar in July 2000.

King Slayer, second to El Cielo in the 2000 San Simeon, was unplaced in two starts at Del Mar, but was second in the Kerlan Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 23. He is trained by Bob Hess, who claimed King Slayer on behalf of Jay Manoogian for $100,000 last March.

Last Parade is the outsider in the field, but was a stakes winner last year in Argentina. Trained by William Currin, Last Parade was unplaced in two starts at Hollywood Park during the summer, including a ninth at 79-1 in the Triple Bend Handicap.