Despite being caught seven-wide turning for home, Sky Kingdom
overcame an 11 ½ month layoff to win Thursday’s $60,000 Kern River Purse
by a neck, covering one mile in 1:35.84 with Martin Garcia aboard.
Trained by Bob Baffert, Sky Kingdom’s most recent start came in
the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Feb. 4, a race in which the
Kentucky-bred by Empire Maker finished 10 ¼ lengths behind eventual
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, I’ll Have Another.
“To run as huge as he did today, being away as long as he was,
is fantastic,” said Baffert assistant Jim Barnes. “We were wide turning
for home, but he was really running. I’m happy for (owner) Westrock
(Stables) and Martin rode him really good.”
With 2-1 Gladding setting a quick pace of 22.72, 46.00 and
1:10.09, Garcia and Sky Kingdom were next-to-last into and around the
Club House turn and all the way up the backside until the field of seven
reached the far turn. At that point, the field bunched and Garcia made
the decision to keep his mount running and in the clear.
In a three-horse duel to the wire, Sky Kingdom prevailed over
Blueskiesnrainbows, with Rafael Bejarano and it was another head back to
third-place finisher Phantom Lover and Victor Espinoza.
“When we went into the first turn, that is exactly where he
wanted to be,” said Garcia. “I wanted to be clear and put him wherever
he was going to be comfortable, and try to save ground. At the half
mile I had to find a place because of traffic, so I decided to move him
Sky Kingdom paid $9.40, $5.40 and $4.00. With the winner’s
share of $36,000, Sky Kingdom increased his earnings to $165,930 from a
record of 7-3-0-0.
Blueskiesnrainbows, off at 9-2, paid $6.20 and $3.60. Phantom Lover paid $4.20 to show.
Off as the 2-1 favorite, Gladding, one of three past stakes
winners in the second-condition allowance Kern River, weakened late and
finished last. The lone participant entered for an optional claiming
tag of $62,500, Gladding was haltered by trainer Vann Belvoir.
There is a Pick Six carryover of $55,831 into Friday at Santa
Anita. It is expected that the total pool on Friday should exceed
$300,000. The Pick Six will cover the final six races, three through