12/10/2005 1:00AM

Loyalton surprises in Larkspur Stakes


ALBANY, Calif. - Loyalton ($27) gave trainer Jerry Hollendorfer his seventh victory in 11 stakes at the Golden Gate Fields meeting, defeating Seattles Best Joe and Wilko in a three-way photo to win the $60,800 Larkspur Stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday.

Sitting closer to the lead than Hollendorfer originally expected, Loyalton opened a two-length lead into the stretch and finished strong to hold off Seattles Best Joe by a nose with Wilko another head back in his first start since the Preakness.

"I wanted to lay third, but when he broke so well, Russell (Baze) used good judgment and came away with them," Hollendorfer said.

Baze was second to Wind Water through an opening 22.51 fraction and was a head in front through a 45.14 half-mile. He ran his final quarter in 23.45 seconds and final eighth in 11.92 seconds, just withstanding the strong finishes by second-choice Seattles Best Joe and favored Wilko. The winning time for six furlongs was 1:08.59.

"He came away pretty easy and went there pretty easy," Hollendorfer said. "Russell had a good hold on him the first eighth and first quarter."

Loyalton, sidelined for 11 months after ankle surgery, was sixth against older in his comeback Nov. 27. Hollendorfer said he brought the colt back quickly only because he had been doing so well.

Trainer Craig Dollase, who plans to use the race for a prep for the Grade 1 Malibu on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita, was disappointed to lose, but was happy with the way last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner finished.

"That's what we expected," he said. "He galloped out real well, and it looks like he came back fine. They really flew home, and Corey (Nakatani) didn't beat him up, but he surged at the rail."

Dollase believes the race could be a perfect tune-up for the seven-furlong Malibu.

Stellar Magic, also making a comeback off a long layoff, pressed the pace three wide for the opening half mile before tiring late.

The victory, worth $36,800, gave Loyalton a record of two wins in six starts. He more than doubled his lifetime earnings to $70,688.