06/10/2003 11:00PM

Another Sky Jack comeback

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For the second time in the last 18 months, Sky Jack is ready to resume racing after a layoff caused by a knee injury.

In Friday's fifth race at Hollywood Park, Sky Jack returns from an eight-month break caused by an injury to his problematic right knee to start in a $62,000 optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

In early 2002, Sky Jack rebounded from an injury to his right knee and a severe bout with colic to have a successful campaign, highlighted by a win in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup.

Friday's comeback race could lead to another start in the Gold Cup on July 13.

"I think the biggest thing is he's made it back," trainer Doug O'Neill said.

The 7-year-old Sky Jack has not run on turf since he won an allowance race at one mile in July 2000. Overall, he has won 2 of 3 starts on turf, but is racing over a surface that is a specialty for several opponents.

Friday's race has drawn nine runners, including stakes winners Decarchy, Lord Jim, Native Desert, Spinelessjellyfish, Tijiyr, and Yougottawanna.

Decarchy, winner of the 2002 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, makes his first start since finishing sixth as the favorite in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland in April.

Native Desert has won 21 of 68 starts and $1,790,557. The 9-year-old Native Desert was second in the Khaled Stakes on turf April 26, and will be attempting to end a three-race losing streak.

Spinelessjellyfish won the Sensational Star Handicap on turf at Santa Anita in January, his lone victory since the start of 2002. The field also includes Denied and Irish Warrior, who have raced well in allowance races on turf in recent starts.

Denied is unbeaten in two starts since being transferred to trainer Jeff Mullins.

Sky Jack is a front-runner who could be challenged by Lord Jim and Yougottawanna.

O'Neill is hoping to see enough from Friday's race to justify a return to the Gold Cup.

"I'm sure he'll need one, if not two, before he's ready for the big boys," O'Neill said. "In a dream world, if he ran huge and the Gold Cup came up short, we may try to add his name to that wall again."