12/08/2005 12:00AM

Wilko no lock in his return

Wilko (above), sidelined since May, will have to contend with the improving Seattles Best Joe.

ALBANY, Calif. - , last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, will make his first start since sustaining an ankle chip during the Preakness when he returns to the races Saturday in the $50,000-added Larkspur Stakes for 3-year-olds at Golden Gate Fields.

He drew post 5 in the field of seven for the six-furlong sprint.

He has the quality and class to win even though he is better suited for longer distances and even though this is primarily a prep race for the Grade 1 Malibu on opening day at Santa Anita, Dec. 26.

Multiple stakes winner Seattles Best Joe, in fact, is the one to beat Saturday even though he is coming into the race under the radar, with Wilko and fellow comebacker grabbing the most attention.

"I was just looking for a little spot to get started," Dollase said. "I wanted to get a race into him before the Strub Series. I'd like to get a race into him rather than work him three or four more times. I thought it was a good fit. The horse is ahead of schedule. He's a time bomb waiting to explode."

Dollase, who battled the colt's foot problems all year, said the time off after the ankle surgery allowed quarter cracks to heal on both front feet.

"This is probably not his best distance, but he's run well in the past at short distances," said trainer Craig Dollase, pointing out that Wilko graduated in a six-furlong race in Great Britain. "We're hoping for a good, positive race and hope he jumps up and wins it."

The trouble-prone has won the Emerald Express and Captain Condo at Emerald Downs and the Sunny Slope at Santa Anita, all at six furlongs. He is coming off a five-length victory against a solid field of older runners in the Sausalito Stakes here on Oct. 29.

"If you look at his past performances, when he won that day it was the first time he didn't have a trouble line," said Seattles Best Joe's trainer, Howard Belvoir.

Belvoir said he had planned to run the gelding in an allowance race before Saturday's Larkspur, but the race didn't fill originally.

"He's working nice, but works aren't like a race," he said.

Speedy multiple stakes winner Wind Water may have an uncontested lead and be tough to catch, but Seattles Best Joe has shown improvement in each start this year and should give Wilko the biggest challenge in the lane.