Updated on 09/17/2011 11:52AM

O'Neill poised to reap a bonanza

Sky Jack should go favored in Saturday's 14th running of the $250,000 California Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The $1.3 million California Cup - an annual fall celebration of California-breds - has landed squarely on the shoulders of a horse trainer. Doug O'Neill, who trains Cal Cup Classic favorite Sky Jack, recognizes that his bevy of riches has created a paradox Saturday at Santa Anita.

The California Cup is intended as a party for breeders and owners, but when O'Neill entered 13 horses, the eight-stakes, 10-race card became mostly a showcase for the hottest stable in California. O'Neill still defers, and says the Cal Cup "is a day for breeders and owners, a day that celebrates the people who breed and raise horses, a day stallion and mare owners can put their chest forward and showcase all their hard work."

Much of that work has found its way to O'Neill, who set the Oak Tree single-season win record Wednesday with his 22nd victory. He will try to add to the total Saturday by starting horses in the final seven stakes at the 14th Cal Cup.

First post Saturday is noon Pacific. After two starter allowances, there are eight stakes, and a guaranteed $1 million pick six pool on races 5-10. The threat of rain muddles preliminary handicapping, and is one reason why racing secretary Mike Harlow positioned the $100,000 Distance Handicap as race 3, prior to the start of the pick six. Valentine Dancer and Shalini are the favorites, but rain could force the 1 1/4-mile turf race for fillies and mares to the main track.

O'Neill's first starter is distance-challenged Cee's Elegance in race 4. She and stablemate Cyber Slew will try to hold off Royally Chosen in the $150,000 Matron for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. The first leg of the pick six is race 5, the $150,000 Distaff at 6 1/2 furlongs on turf. The race would be moved to dirt in the event of rain. O'Neill's three starters include Grant Marty a Wish.

Former claimer Highly Tempting gives O'Neill a huge chance in the $150,000 Sprint (race 6). He faces 10-year-old Men's Exclusive and 8-year-old Full Moon Madness in the six-furlong race. House of Fortune is a potential pick six single in the $125,000 Juvenile Fillies (race 7), a 1 1/16-mile race in which O'Neill starts Seattle Sloop. The class of the $175,000 Mile (race 8, on turf) is Continental Red, who faces the O'Neill threesome of Sea to See, Menacing Dennis, and Blairs General.

The $125,000 Cal Cup Juvenile (race 10) is perceived as a two-horse race at 1 1/16 miles between Don'tsellmeshort and O'Neill-trained Black Horse Money.

The highlight of the card is the 1 1/8-mile Classic (race 9), another race perceived as a two-horse contest, between Sky Jack and Hot Market.

Ten entered the Classic, including last year's winner, Calkins Road, $1.7 million earner Grey Memo, and improving 3-year-old Red Warrior. The longshots include Mr. Joe C, Tizawinner, Commander's Flag, Tizbud, and Kedington.

Sky Jack, owned by breeders Rene and Margie Lambert, has not raced since a daylight win Aug. 24 in the Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs. O'Neill was asked what it would take for him to win his comeback.

"Just for him to show up and run the race that he has 95 percent of the time; I just want a safe racetrack," O'Neill said. "If it rains at all, I'm going to have a leery feeling of running or not."

Sky Jack is 10 for 18, and the best horse in the race, but Hot Market will give him a battle.

A knee chip has kept Hot Market on the sidelines since January, and while he has worked well, trainer Craig Lewis admits he is not 100 percent cranked for his comeback. "I really don't expect him to win," Lewis said, adding that Hot Market "usually needs a race or two. He doesn't have to win, as long as he runs good and comes back good."

In fact, Lewis and owner John Harris are looking past the Cal Cup to the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic early in the Santa Anita winter meet. "With a race like that two months away, why would you crank him up?" Lewis said.

Sky Jack and Hot Market are front-runners. Hot Market drew outside his adversary. Hot Market finished an unlucky fifth in the Cal Cup Classic last year after rearing at the start. A 5-year-old with 6 wins from 17 starts, Hot Market is one of three offspring of Cee's Tizzy in the Classic. The others, Tizbud and Tizawinner, appear outclassed.

Grey Memo is seeking his first win at Santa Anita in his 15th start at the track. A graded stakes winner who is 8 for 48 in his career, Grey Memo prefers sand-based tracks such as Hollywood Park. He is a proven closer in a race with ample pace to set up his kick.

They all have to catch Sky Jack. "It would be a great way to end the day," O'Neill said. Reminded that one more race, the Juvenile, follows the Classic, O'Neill laughed and said, "We'll still show up in the paddock for that race."

The field

California Cup Classic Handicap $250,000, 1 1/8 miles

1Calkins RoadJ. Krone11810-1
2Mr. Joe CJ. Valdivia Jr.11220-1
3TizawinnerT. Farina11330-1
4Commander's FlagA. Solis11415-1
5Sky JackR. Baze1238-5
6Red WarriorR. Fogelsonger11210-1
7TizbudV. Espinoza1148-1
8Hot MarketP. Valenzuela1205-2
9KedingtonT. Baze11320-1
10Grey MemoK. Desormeaux1206-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly

California Cup races

Distance H.$100,000Fillies-mares1 1/4 miles, turf1:00
Matron150,000Fillies-mares1 1/16 miles1:32
Distaff*150,000Fillies-maresAbout 6 1/2 f, turf2:06
Sprint*150,0003yo & upSix furlongs2:38
Juvenile Fillies*125,0002yo fillies1 1/16 miles3:10
Mile*175,0003yo & upOne mile, turf3:41
Classic*250,0003yo & up1 1/8 miles4:12
Juvenile*125,0002yo colts, geldings1 1/16 miles4:42

All races for California-breds* $1 million guaranteed pick sixAll times Pacific