01/27/2006 12:00AM

Giacomo may return in Strub

Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, has been training for a comeback from surgery since last fall.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo is likely to make his first start in eight months in the $300,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita next Saturday, trainer John Shirreffs said Friday.

Giacomo, who has not started since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes last June, worked seven furlongs in 1:25.40 at Hollywood Park on Friday. The workout was Giacomo's 10th since he resumed serious training last fall, and third consecutive workout at seven furlongs.

The Grade 2 Strub Stakes is run at 1 1/8 miles for 4-year-olds, and is considered a leading prep to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 4.

In recent weeks, Shirreffs has been considering the Strub Stakes or an allowance race for Giacomo's comeback. He said a final decision on Giacomo's status for the Strub Stakes would be made by Wednesday.

"We'll have to judge in the next week whether a mile and an eighth is okay," Shirreffs said, concerned about running Giacomo in such a long race off a layoff. "The question is where to run him - against his own age group in the Strub or an allowance race against all ages. At some point, you have to just run him."

Shirreffs said on Friday that jockey Mike Smith, who rode Giacomo last year, would travel from Florida for the Strub. Shirreffs spoke with Smith on Wednesday.

"Mike said he was waiting for the call," Shirreffs said.

Friday, Giacomo worked in company with stablemate Bullistic. Giacomo started four lengths behind Bullistic, and closed ground on the backstretch. Giacomo trailed Bullistic by two lengths on the final turn, drew alongside in early stretch, and finished a neck in front. Bullistic was timed in 1:26.60. Giacomo galloped out a mile in 1:38.

Owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, Giacomo has won 2 of 10 starts and $1,966,316. He has not raced since June after undergoing surgery to have bone chips removed from an ankle and knee.

Wilko aims for Strub, too

The Strub Stakes will also include Wilko, the winner of the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, who was 11th in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes here on Dec. 26.

Friday at Hollywood Park, Wilko worked a mile in 1:41.40 under jockey Corey Nakatani.

Friday's workout gave trainer Craig Dollase confidence.

"It was a lovely work for him," Dollase said. "We're pretty happy with how he performed. He came back well and wasn't blowing too hard."

Wilko emerged from the Malibu with a minor illness, Dollase said. The Malibu marked Wilko's seventh consecutive loss since the BC Juvenile.

"His blood count was off," Dollase said. "We backed off, put some stamina works in him, and we're ready."

Hollywood turf course usable

Hollywood Park could conduct races on its newly installed turf course if the track were conducting a meeting, racing secretary Martin Panza said Friday.

The track could not hold turf racing last fall after the course failed to take root when it was resodded last summer. The course has since been resodded a second time, with a Bermuda grass known as GN-1, and has taken root well, Panza said. The spring-summer meeting begins on April 26.

"If we had to run on it, we could, but we wouldn't want to," Panza said. "With three months to go, we're in good shape."

Friday, the backstretch of the course was covered with a plastic material that Panza said has greenhouse qualities, allowing sunshine to reach the grass and holding warmth into the ground. Panza said the plastic tarp, which covers more than half of the one-mile course at one time, is rotated from the front side of the course to the backstretch each week.

"We're not out of the woods, weatherwise," Panza said. "It still could get cold in February."

Turf racing is vital at Hollywood Park. The track had to cancel its signature six-race Autumn Turf Festival last fall because of the course conditions. The track will host three $750,000 races during the spring-summer meeting, with two of them on turf.

Elusive Diva a horse for course

Elusive Diva, unbeaten on the Santa Anita hillside turf course, will attempt to win her fourth stakes over the course in Sunday's $75,000 Wishing Well Handicap.

Elusive Diva, 5, won the 2005 Wishing Well. Later in the season, she won the Grade 3 Las Cienegas Handicap and the Grade 3 Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap.

Earlier in the week, trainer Mark Glatt was considering Elusive Diva for Sunday's Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap on the main track, but opted for the comfort of a turf sprint.

The Wishing Well is run at about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf and has drawn a field of eight, including Starkay, a minor stakes winner on turf at Hollywood Park last June, and Cambiocorsa, who is making her stakes debut after winning three starts on the hillside course.

Sinister Minister now with Baffert

Sinister Minister, one of the fastest 3-year-old maiden winners of the Santa Anita winter meet, has been sold privately and transferred to trainer Bob Baffert, the trainer said. Sinister Minister won his second career start by eight lengths on Jan. 20, winning a $62,500 maiden-claiming race for trainer Rafael Becerra in 1:03.62 for 5 1/2 furlongs. The racetrack was listed as fast that day, but produced slow times, and Sinister Minister's romping win earned a 101 Beyer Figure.

Sinister Minister is a son of Old Trieste previously owned by NJ Cal Breeders. Baffert declined to reveal the identity of the colt's new owner.

Stakes winners pick next spots

Siren Lure and Ticker Tape, stakes winners on Wednesday and Thursday, will reappear in stakes in February.

Siren Lure won Wednesday's $86,850 Impressive Luck II Handicap at about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course by a nose over Shadow of Illinois. Siren Lure, trained by Art Sherman, will return in the $75,000 Daytona Handicap on the same course on Feb. 19.

Ticker Tape, a finalist for the Eclipse Award for outstanding turf female in 2004, ended a nine-race losing streak in Thursday's $81,350 Tuzla Handicap for fillies and mares at a mile on turf. She finished a half-length in front of Movie Star.

Trained by Jim Cassidy, Ticker Tape will be pointed for the $150,000 Buena Vista Handicap on Feb. 20.

Field of three crosses finish line

In the second race on Friday, a 6 1/2-furlong sprint for $18,000 to $20,000 claimers, five 3-year-old fillies were entered, four started, and only three finished.

Sugar Deputy was scratched on Friday morning, while Crystals Passion was pulled up on the turn and vanned off after suffering a hind leg injury.

Purrfect Vixen ($3.40) finished three lengths in front of She's Stormin, who was 26 lengths in front of Hot Princess.

- additional reporting by Brad Free