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Santa Anita Park: Sky Kingdom Strolls Home

Sky Kingdom retained a firm position among trainer Bob Baffert’s deep contingent of Kentucky Derby candidates Thursday with an easy, 4 ½-length victory in Santa Anita’s $55,798 allowance feature for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles.

Jockey Martin Garcia had his mount completely in hand when crossing the wire in 1:44.72 after the Empire Maker offspring had previously impressed when rallying for fourth, beaten 2 ¼ lengths behind stablemate Liaison in the Grade I CashCall Futurity on Dec. 17.

Smart Ellis finished second Thursday, one length ahead of 17-10 second-choice Spirit Rules in a field reduced to four starters with the late scratch of Sir Allison.

“It was a paid workout,” Baffert said in the winner’s circle. His only regret was that Garcia wrapped up so early. “I wish he would have let him run through the lane a little bit,” said Baffert.

The Hall of Fame trainer wasn’t certain where Sky Kingdom might resurface, but he was sure it would be in a stakes race. “I don’t know where, but he’ll run in a stake next time,” Baffert said.

He noted that Sky Kingdom has a similar appearance to a widely seen horse named Finders Key. “This horse has the same markings as that horse in (the movie) ‘War Horse,’” commented Baffert. “I don’t know if that’s an omen or not.”

Baffert might want to rethink that analogy and hope it’s not an omen.

Finders Key, who portrayed the horse named Joey in the motion picture, started three times during his racing career, all in $2,500 maiden claiming events at Los Alamitos—finishing out of the money all three occasions.

Sky Kingdom has improved rapidly after being stretched out to route distances. After failing to hit the board in two maiden sprints at Del Mar last summer, he graduated by 2 ½ lengths at 5-1 odds when traversing two turns for the first time at Hollywood Park on Nov. 24. His solid effort in the Futurity followed.

An $180,000 Keeneland sales purchase in November of 2009, Sky Kingdom earned $34,800 for Thursday’s victory to bring his total to $125,930.

As the odds-on favorite, Sky Kingdom paid $3.20 and $2.10. Smart Ellis, ridden by Joel Rosario, returned $3 to place. There was no show wagering.



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