02/02/2006 12:00AM

Giacomo, Wilko out to regain past glory

In the Grade 2 Strub at Santa Anita on Saturday, Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo returns for trainer John Shirreffs.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Giacomo and Wilko have won two of the biggest races of their generation. Giacomo was 50-1 when he pulled an historic upset in the 2005 Kentucky Derby, six months after Wilko won the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park at 28-1.

Neither colt has won since his big score. Saturday, each of them has a good chance to end a losing streak in the $300,000 at Santa Anita, a race that has drawn a competitive cast of 4-year-olds.

For Giacomo and Wilko, a win at the start of their 2006 campaign would give them much-needed credibility in a handicap division that lacks a standout.

Races this weekend will help sort out that group, with older horses running in Saturday's Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and Sunday's San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita.

Giacomo has not started since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes last June. He emerged from that race with bone chips in an ankle and knee that required surgery.

The Grade 2 Strub, run over 1 1/8 miles, comes after a 10-week period of regular workouts for Giacomo, who races for Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs. Giacomo's last three workouts have been beyond seven furlongs.

"I'm anxious to see him run again," Shirreffs said. "He's a distance horse, and I think he'll like the distance."

Giacomo, a closer, should have ample pace to follow in the Strub, which drew 13 entrants. Four of them started in the 2005 Kentucky Derby - Wilko, who was sixth, Greeley's Galaxy (11th), and High Limit (20th), along with Giacomo.

Jockey Mike Smith, who is based in Florida, has the mount on Giacomo. He has been aboard for all 10 of the colt's starts.

"I hope there is a lot of speed," Shirreffs said. "I think a lot of strange things happen in small fields that don't happen with larger fields. In his first race back, I'd prefer he sit back and make one run. If we can get as much speed as the Derby [had], it would be great."

After the Derby, Wilko finished 12th in the Preakness Stakes last May before going to the sidelines with an ankle injury. He made two starts in December, finishing third in the Larkspur Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on Dec. 10 and 11th in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26.

He emerged from the Malibu with a bad blood count that forced owners Paul Reddam and Susan Roy and trainer Craig Dollase to regroup. Dollase committed Wilko to the Strub Stakes after watching him work a mile in 1:41.40 at Hollywood Park on Jan. 27.

"This race looks like a good race to get him back on track," Dollase said "He needs a good effort, and I hope this is the spot."

Dollase thinks that Wilko can be effective at the Strub distance, recalling that Wilko finished third, beaten a half-length, in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby last April.

"He ran lights-out in the Santa Anita Derby," Dollase said.

If those two falter, several horses can win, including Dixie Meister, who was second in the New Orleans Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 7, and Canteen and Greeley's Galaxy, the second- and third-place finishers in the San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 14.

High Limit, trained by Bobby Frankel, will be well backed and will play a major role in the race. He led throughout in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap over 1 1/16 miles here on Jan. 7, his first start since finishing seventh in Del Mar Derby on turf in September.

"He ran good, but it wasn't a great race," Frankel said of the San Pasqual.

Still, Frankel opted for the Strub for High Limit instead of the San Carlos Handicap over seven furlongs later this month.

The Strub is the last chance for the 4-year-olds to race within their own age group, and a chance for two well-known members to gain a much-needed stakes win.

The field

Strub Stakes
Purse: $300,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

1Greeley's GalaxyK. Desormeaux1195-1
2Top This and ThatA. Solis11720-1
3AlexandersunJ. Court11730-1
4GiacomoM. Smith1236-1
5Dixie MeisterD. Flores11912-1
6Hockey the GeneralV. Espinoza11720-1
7UlistnintomeT. Baze11710-1
8Ice ColeJ. Santiago11730-1
9ActxecutiveA. Gryder11730-1
10CanteenG. Gomez1174-1
11High LimitP. Valenzuela1215-2
12WilkoC. Nakatani1178-1
13DistortedJ. Valdivia Jr.11715-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly