Sky Kingdom showed his staying ability with an easy win in the Tokyo City Cup last month, so trainer Bob Baffert will find out if the son of Empire Maker can transfer that same success to the turf in the $150,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap April 21 at Santa Anita Park.
The closing day feature attracted a field of seven, and it could be Sky Kingdom's for the taking if he adapts to the grass. Bright Thought, monster winner of the San Luis Rey Stakes March 16, skipped the San Juan Capistrano and is being pointed to the Arlington Million. Last year's winner, 7-year-old Bourbon Bay (who also captured the San Juan in 2010 for trainer Neil Drysdale), was nominated but not entered, and has apparently been retired.
The San Juan Capistrano, one of the most unique races in America at about 1 3/4 miles down the hillside and once around the main turf course, is carded as race 7 Sunday with a 3:36 p.m. PDT scheduled post.
It is one race that the Hall of Fame trainer Baffert has never won and has rarely tried. Sky Kingdom, off his 3 3/4-length win in the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City Cup March 23, is the 120-pound high weight.
Baffert sent the 4-year-old colt, who is out of the Kingmambo mare Sky Beam, for a three-furlong jaunt over the turf course April 18, which Sky Kingdom completed in :41 1/5 handily. He had never been farther than 1 1/16 miles before his Tokyo City score, accomplished in a time of 2:30.56 over a fast track.
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO DRAW
Martin Garcia will be aboard Westrock Stables' Sky Kingdom and they will break from post 5. Sky Kingdom has four lifetime wins from nine starts.
Tokyo City runner-up Oilisblackgold is also entered by trainer Craig Dollase for Class Racing Stable. The 6-year-old son of Tapit has experience over turf, though he is yet to finish in the money in four tries. Martin Pedroza has the call.
Without Bright Thought in the mix, the race brought out All Squared Away, Fire With Fire, and Interaction (ARG), who ran second through fourth in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey.
All Squared Away, a 4-year-old Bellamy Road gelding, raced close to the lead in the San Luis Rey but could not stay with the winner through the stretch, finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind the winning time of 2:22.72. The Peter Miller trainee was third in the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos Stakes prior to that, 3 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Slim Shadey. Edwin Maldonado retains the mount.
Drysdale will aim for his fifth San Juan victory with Fire With Fire. The Hall of Fame conditioner trains the 5-year-old Distorted Humor gelding for David Heerensperger, who also owns Bourbon Bay. Though often close, Fire With Fire has just two wins from 21 starts and is working on a 15-race losing streak. Tyler Baze is back aboard.
The Argentina-bred Interaction should take some action, though he showed little punch in the San Luis Rey while running evenly as the 2-1 choice. He was a close second in both the Hollywood Turf Cup and San Marcos for Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally before his most recent start. A three-time Group 1 winner in his native country, the 7-year-old leads the field in earnings with $624,422. He will be ridden by Joe Talamo.
There's another Hall of Fame trainer in this mix as well in Richard Mandella, who sends out Smart Ellis, owned by Alain and Gerard Wertheimer and Charles Heilbronn. The 4-year-old Smarty Jones colt is in search of his first stakes win, though he defeated Fire With Fire in a nine-furlong allowance heat March 3. He has been working well since, but he has never raced longer than 10 furlongs.
"I've always thought he might appreciate more distance," said Mandella, who, with 15 wins from 55 starters through the meet's first 67 days, is hitting at a 27% clip. "This is a pretty good way to find out."
Mandella won the San Juan Capistrano once previously, with Kotashaan in 1993.
Lime Rickey is a 7-year-old by Lemon Drop Kid claimed for $25,000 by Bill Spawr last summer at Del Mar. He makes his first graded stakes appearance since finishing sixth in the 2009 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. The gelding has banked $433,347 over a 38-race career.