03/08/2006 1:00AM

Wilko headed to Dubai World Cup

Wilko will be under the guidance of Jeremy Noseda for his March 25 race in Dubai.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Wilko, who finished third in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 4, is scheduled to make his next start in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 25. Garrett Gomez is booked to ride the 4-year-old Wilko, best known for winning the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Wilko finished 8 1/4 lengths behind Lava Man in the Big Cap, rallying from last in a field of nine. He finished 7 1/2 lengths behind runner-up Magnum after lagging behind pacesetter With Distinction through early fractions of 47.21 seconds and 1:11.30.

"We tried something different," Gomez said. "We wanted to settle, but the pace wasn't as fast as we thought."

According to trainer Craig Dollase, Wilko will be trained by Jeremy Noseda for the Dubai World Cup. Noseda trained Wilko at 2 and was the trainer when the colt won the BC Juvenile. Wilko joined Dollase's stable after the BC Juvenile.

"He'll run in Jeremy's name," Dollase said. "He knows the horse and he knows his way around there. He's familiar with the surroundings. It's a win-win situation for everyone."

Owned by Paul Reddam and Susan Roy, Wilko was third in the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita on Feb. 5. He is winless in nine starts since the BC Juvenile, a span that includes a sixth in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.

"I know another horse who was like that; his name was Borrego," Gomez said. "I'm not flying across the world for nothing."

Last summer, Borrego ended a four-race losing streak with consecutive wins in the Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Gomez is also booked to ride Jet West in the $2 million Golden Shaheen for sprinters in Dubai on March 25.

Wilko is one of five U.S.-based horses expected to start in the Dubai World Cup, which is run at 1 1/4 miles. Wednesday, trainer Jeff Mullins said that Choctaw Nation would run in the Dubai World Cup and not the $1 million Godolphin Mile on the same program as originally planned. Choctaw Nation was purchased earlier this year by Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al Maktoum.

"They called [on Tuesday] and changed their mind," Mullins said of the decision to go in the World Cup.

Choctaw Nation, who won the San Diego Handicap last summer at Del Mar, won an allowance race here on Feb. 10. He was third in the 2005 Dubai World Cup.

The other U.S.-based runners scheduled to run in the Dubai World Cup all started in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4 - race winner Brass Hat, Magna Graduate, who was fourth, and Super Frolic, who finished eighth.

Pivotal race for Diplomat Lady

The $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks on Sunday will determine the course of Diplomat Lady's campaign this spring. The winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes in a 39-1 upset in December, Diplomat Lady was fifth in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 11, her first start of the year. A big race on Sunday could lead to a start in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5.

"This is an important race," trainer Christopher Paasch said. "Do we go farther distances or shorten up?"

A winner of 3 of 6 starts and $339,800, Diplomat Lady will race without blinkers for the first time in four starts, Paasch said.

In the Hollywood Starlet, Diplomat Lady beat Balance, but was no match for that rival in the Las Virgenes. Balance, trained by David Hofmans, is the filly that Paasch fears in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks.

"I'm very nervous," Paasch said. "Balance is an outstanding horse. I think she'll be the one to beat. Balance is making the biggest step forward."

The Santa Anita Oaks will not have a large field, which could help a front-runner such as Diplomat Lady. Other probable starters are Quiet Kim, Sweet Belle, and Wild Fit.

Arcadia next for Milk It Mick

Milk It Mick, the upset winner of the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile last Saturday, will stay at Santa Anita for the $150,000 Arcadia Handicap at a mile on turf on April 8, trainer Jim Cassidy said Wednesday.

Milk It Mick, who ended a 10-race losing streak in the Kilroe, went back to the track on Wednesday, and needed the exercise, Cassidy said.

"He came out of the race super," Cassidy said. "He went back to the track and he's pretty keen."

Cassidy considered running Milk It Mick in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in April, but wants to keep Milk It Mick on his home course.

"I'm not saying he couldn't do the job," in Kentucky, Cassidy said. "He likes this track right now. I think we should stay put."

Owned by Paul Dixon, Milk It Mick has the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4 as a long-term goal. Milk It Mick, 5, has won 6 of 22 starts and $598,752.

House of Fortune recuperating

House of Fortune, who would have been a top contender for Saturday's Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap, continues to recover well from a recent bout of colic but remains at a Southern California veterinarian clinic, trainer Ron McAnally said.

A winner of 8 of 22 starts and $989,185, House of Fortune is expected to return to McAnally's stable at Santa Anita in coming weeks.

"Her temperature is down and she's eating good," McAnally said. "She's in the right spot. As soon as they give me the word, we'll bring her home."

House of Fortune, 5, was stricken in the weeks after the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28, her seventh stakes win.

Even without House of Fortune, the Santa Margarita still has a strong field. The probable starters are Bending Strings, Dream of Summer, Healthy Addiction, Hollywood Story, Play Ballado, Proposed, Seafree, and Star Parade.

* Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has a clear lead in the standings through Sunday, took off his mounts on Wednesday, citing illness, according to his agent, Tom Knust. Valenzuela has won 57 races, nine more than second-place Victor Espinoza.