03/22/2006 12:00AM

Florida Keys back on hill


ARCADIA, Calif. - He was born in Kentucky, and first raced in Florida, but the hillside turf course at Santa Anita has become home for Florida Keys. He has won half of his six starts on this course, and returns there in Friday's featured seventh race, in which he appears the horse to beat.

Nine horses were entered in the 6 1/2-furlong race, with Florida Keys drawing the advantageous outside post. The $55,000 race is an optional claimer for second-level allowance runners; Florida Keys is the only horse entered for the $62,500 tag.

was purchased privately in Florida in November 2004 by trainer Jeff Mullins, who brought him west. Last winter at Santa Anita, he won three times in four starts on the hillside course. He is winless in five starts since then, but he comes off a second-place finish over this course on Feb. 2, when trainer John Sadler claimed him for $50,000.

The filly is an intriguing longshot. Although she is facing males, she did run well against males last year in Ireland, including a second-place finish in a Group 3 stakes race at The Curragh. She has not raced since Oct. 9, but Lock and Key has been training steadily for trainer Ben Cecil; two of her last six drills were the best of the morning at the distance. Why has she been kept under lock and key so long?

"I was planning on unlocking her last weekend, but they took the race off the grass and I didn't want to run on dirt," said Cecil, who said he wants to use Friday's race as a prep for the Grade 3, $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap on the hillside turf course on April 16.

"My target with her, if she's up to it, is the Las Cienegas," Cecil said. "I wanted to get a race down the hill, and this was all that, timing-wise, I could do and still make that race. Having said that, I think she's pretty useful. She beat colts in Europe. That made the decision easier."

returned from a six-month layoff to win a first-level allowance over this course on Feb. 4. Leo Getz also won over this course on Jan. 11, taking a first-level allowance in his first start since July.

Patrick Valenzuela, who rode Cyber City Slew, Florida Keys, and Leo Getz the last time each raced, ended up on Nonno Luigi, who faltered in his first start in this country, going one mile on Jan. 21 for trainer Bobby Frankel. Nonno Luigi was a Group 1 winner in his native Brazil.