02/07/2002 12:00AM

Sky Jack returns from long absence

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Doug O'Neill has waited 14 months for Saturday to arrive.

Sky Jack, the star of O'Neill's barn in the final two months of 2000, makes his first start after a long layoff caused by a knee injury and a severe bout with colic.

The 6-year-old Sky Jack, owned by Renee and Margie Lambert, starts in a $65,000 allowance race over a mile that has six others, including stakes winners Futural and Red Eye.

Run as the third race, the allowance race has drawn a stakes-caliber field.

In the last year, there were times when O'Neill wondered if Sky Jack would return. The colic surgery, in particular, was a scare.

"They did surgery on him for colic while he was recovering from surgery on his knee," O'Neill said. "He had a lot of stuff go on when he was laid up at the farm." Sky Jack was in peak form when he was sidelined. He won the California Cup Classic in 2000 and his graded stakes debut a month later in the Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park.

"He came back in early November," O'Neill said. "It's been my dilemma where to come back. The big debate is whether it's easier to go six furlongs or a mile. Maybe at a mile he might not have to be used in the first part."

Futural is returning from an injury as well. A 6-year-old gelding, Futural won the San Bernardino and Mervyn LeRoy handicaps last year. He was first at the wire in the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup last July, but was controversially disqualified to third for causing interference in the stretch. Saturday's race is his first start since he finished sixth in the Pacific Classic last August.

Aside from Futural, the leading contenders are Red Eye, who was third in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 5; Bosque Redondo, the winner of an allowance race on Dec. 28; and Dig For It.

Trained by Bruce Headley, Dig For It was 11th in the Japan Cup Dirt at 127-1 on Nov. 24 at Tokyo Race Course. He was third in the Pacific Classic last August, the best performance of a 13-race campaign in 2001.

A strong performance on Saturday could lead to a start in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 2 for many of the competitors. The Big Cap is certainly a possibility for Sky Jack. "It would have to be in the back of her mind," O'Neill said of the 1 1/4-mile classic. "It would be great to see him pick up a check and come out of it well."

Big Cap field looking small

With three weeks remaining until the richest race of the meeting, the Big Cap does not have many probables. As of Thursday, there were only six horses under consideration - Cagney, Euchre, Fancy As, *, Irisheyesareflying, and Mizzen Mast. Mizzen Mast, the winner of the Strub Stakes for trainer Bobby Frankel on Feb. 2, is the likely favorite.

Trainer Richard Mandella said Redattore, the winner of the San Antonio Handicap last Sunday, has been slow to recover from a minor foot injury. Mandella said the Dubai World Cup on March 23 in the Middle East is more likely than the Big Cap.

Mandella would like to start Cagney, who finished second in the San Marcos Stakes on Jan. 21. On Thursday, Cagney worked five furlongs in 1:00, the second fastest of 44 works at the distance.

Irisheyesareflying, who was third behind Redattore and Euchre in the San Antonio, is also being considered for the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap over 1 1/8 miles at Fair Grounds on March 3, trainer John Dolan said.

Freedom Crest won the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap in an upset last October but was last in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 27. He has not started since, but has been back in training for two months with Richard Baltas at Hollywood Park.

"He runs well fresh and I think a lof of horses have fallen by the wayside," Baltas said. "We might have to take a shot.

"Bobby's horse is a monster, but second money is worth $200,000. My horse is better than he showed in the Breeders' Cup."

D'wildcat pointed for San Carlos

D'wildcat, the winner of the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park in March 2001, is being pointed for the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap on March 3, trainer Bob Hess, Jr. said.

Hess has mapped out an ambitious plan for the 4-year-old D'wildcat that includes the $350,000 Carter Handicap over seven furlongs at Aqueduct on April 13 and the $750,000 Met Mile Handicap at Belmont Park on May 27. As a long-term goal, Hess would like to start D'wildcat in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park on Oct. 26.

The San Carlos Handicap, run over seven furlongs. would mark D'wildcat's first start since the Swale Stakes. "He'll have plenty of time to get fit," Hess said.

The San Carlos is expected to draw Snow Ridge, the winner of the El Conejo and Palos Verdes handicaps this year, and Ceeband, the winner of the Triple Bend Handicap and California Cup Sprint last year.

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