11/01/2007 12:00AM

Talented colt gives Robbins a boost

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - Little has changed for Jay Robbins since Tiznow won his second Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park in 2001. Robbins still keeps a small stable at Santa Anita, not far from the quarter pole in Barn 27, which he has occupied for years.

The glory of training Tiznow, the 2000 Horse of the Year and the first and only repeat winner of the BC Classic, ended on that cold gray afternoon in New York six years ago, the colt's last start. Tiznow was retired to stud a few days later and Robbins, who has never had a large stable, returned to the comfort of Southern California.

In the ensuing years, Robbins, 62, has remained a fixture at Santa Anita, but has not been in the national spotlight.

Since Tiznow's departure, the soft-spoken Robbins has had just three stakes winners in six years. This weekend, he may be on the verge of adding to that list.

Saturday, in the $150,000 California Cup Sprint at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, the highly promising Johnny Eves makes his stakes debut for Robbins.

There will be no wacky comparisons between Tiznow and the 3-year-old Johnny Eves. By this time in his 3-year-old season, Tiznow had won his first BC Classic.

"He was so good," Robbins said last weekend, reflecting on Tiznow's career. "The chances of getting another like that are virtually nil. To compare the horses I've had since then, it's not fair."

But Robbins is fast to mention Johnny Eves's potential. He has developed in recent months in a fashion that makes him one to watch on Saturday and through the winter.

And, Johnny Eves is somewhat typical of a Robbins-trained horse. He has been given ample time to develop, and is a homebred, owned and bred by Sharon Hilliard of Del Mar, Calif.

A winner of 3 of 7 starts, Johnny Eves did not start until April, because of a fractured tibia at 2. At the time, Johnny Eves was trained by the late Warren Stute. When Johnny Eves was ready to return to training earlier this year, Hilliard chose Robbins.

"I searched around hard to decide where I was going to move" Johnny Eves, she said.

Johnny Eves, a California-bred by Skimming, has evolved into the top horse in Robbins's stable. Johnny Eves is coming off the best race of his career, a front-running win in a first-level allowance race here on Sept. 26 for which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 100.

That victory propelled him to the Cal Cup Sprint, where he will face Bilo, winner of the Grade 1 Triple Bend in July, but not Bordonaro, Greg's Gold, or Idiot Proof, California-breds that started in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Monmouth Park last weekend.

Keeping with his conservative approach, Robbins is not predicting victory in Saturday's six-furlong race.

"It will be steep enough," Robbins said. "He's giving away a lot of experience. He seems to be improving with every outing."

Johnny Eves beat maidens in his third start, in June at Hollywood Park, and won an allowance race for statebreds at Del Mar in August in his fifth start. Confirming his readiness for the Cal Cup Sprint, Johnny Eves worked five furlongs in 58.60 seconds at Santa Anita on Tuesday.

Johnny Eves is one of 10 horses in Robbins's barn. Earlier this year, he was down to three horses, but has since added new clients. Even with the publicity of winning two BC Classics, Robbins's stable did not grow after Tiznow was retired.

"I had difficulty getting along with some of the individuals involved," said Robbins, referring to prospective owners.

Saturday, Robbins will be after his first stakes win since Mazella won the minor Autumn Stakes at Hollywood Park last December. Even with Tiznow in the stable in 2001, Robbins had just 11 wins that season. In subsequent seasons, his best season was 2005, when he had 12 wins and stable earnings of $612,460. Through Wednesday, he has had four wins this year.

Johnny Eves is the best horse owned and bred by Hilliard, the wife of Del Mar Mayor Carl Hilliard. Johnny Eves was offered at the 2004 Keeneland November sale, but was repurchased for $19,000.

Sharon Hilliard holds a special attachment to Johnny Eves. She named him after her father and watched the gelding being foaled in February 2004.

"We really enjoy the babies and watching them grow and develop," she said. "In his case, I got to watch him being born."

Saturday, Johnny Eves may become a stakes winner, a milestone for the Hilliards and a chance for Robbins to regain the attention that goes with training an outstanding horse.