10/06/2001 12:00AM

El Cielo comes back a winner


ARCADIA, Calif. - El Cielo kept his backers in suspense before clinching his comeback victory in a $59,044 allowance race at Santa Anita on Friday.

Making his first start since February, a layoff caused by hind end problems, according to trainer Craig Dollase, El Cielo won his fourth consecutive appearance on Santa Anita's hillside turf course. The streak includes the 2000 Morvich Handicap, a Nov. 5 race on El Cielo's schedule.

In Friday's race, El Cielo ran about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:12.99. Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., he stalked pacesetter Islander until the field crossed over the main track. At the top of the stretch, El Cielo took the lead but was extended to the finish to hold off Islander by a neck.

"He just got a little tired, but I thought he would," Dollase said. "He showed a lot of heart. He did enough to hold on."

Owned by a partnership, the 7-year-old El Cielo was making his first start since finishing third in the Grade 3 Tanforan Handicap last February at Golden Gate Fields. The loss interrupted a five-race winning streak that included three stakes wins in turf sprints.

Despite his accomplishments,

El Cielo is not the top older horse in Dollase's barn. That status belongs to Futural, the winner of the Mervyn LeRoy and San Bernardino handicaps last spring.

First past the post in the Hollywood Gold Cup, but disqualified for interference, Futural is being rested for a winter campaign. Dollase said Futural is halfway through a

60-day break at a local farm and will be pointed for the upcoming Santa Anita winter meeting.

Dollase said Futural suffered a pulled muscle in a hind end when he finished last in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August. Futural's early 2002 goals are the Santa Anita Handicap on March 3 or the Dubai World Cup on March 24.

Came home resumes training

Came Home, scratched from the Norfolk Stakes on Sept. 29 because of concern over an ankle, worked six furlongs in 1:16 on Saturday and later was pronounced on target for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park on Oct. 27 by trainer Paco Gonzalez.

Precautionary X-rays taken last weekend on Came Home's right ankle were negative and the 2-year-old returned to training at midweek.

"He went good, a little slow," Gonzalez said of the work. "I wanted him to go in 1:13 or 1:14. He went 52 seconds for the first half, and he finished strong.

"If nothing goes wrong, we have plenty of time. We can have two more mile workouts and then a five-eighths."

Came Home is unbeaten in three starts, including wins in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship in July and the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last month.

Fragrant Cloud bound for Cal Cup

Gonzalez said Fragrant Cloud, the winner of a six-furlong maiden race for California-bred 2-year-old fillies on Friday, will be pointed for the $125,000 California Cup Juvenile Fillies on Nov. 3.

Making her career debut, Fragrant Cloud ran six furlongs in 1:10.19, winning by 4 1/2 lengths.

"There's really no place else to go," Gonzalez said. "She always seemed like was a nice filly."

Startac headd to Oak Tree Derby

Startac, the winner of the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park in August, heads the prospective field for the $150,000 Oak Tree Derby on Saturday. The Grade 2 Derby, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, is a prep to the Hollywood Derby in late November.

The probable field includes

Dr. Park, Momentum, Roman-

ceishope, Sigfreto, and Sligo Bay. All are stakes winners this year. Dr. Park and Sigfreto won divisions of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar, where Romanceishope won the Del Mar Derby. Momentum was a stakes winner in England, and Sligo Bay won the Will Rogers Handicap at Hollywood Park.

* Sunday's main race is the $100,000 Harold C. Ramser, Sr. Handicap over a mile on turf for 3-year-old fillies. The probables include Alinga, Cindy's Hero, Desiraes My Candy, Gabriellina Giof, and Love Roi.