Recent Las Vegas odds listed Skywalker as a 20-1 possibility to win the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park Nov. 21.
Skywalker's stock, unlike Wall Street's, will climb, and his odds will drop after he won the eighth race, a seven-furlong allowance event, Friday at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.
In his first race since a cracked shin sent him off to a successful season at stud last spring, Skywalker came from well off the pace to win by three-quarters of a length over On the Line. The time of 1:24 4/5 on a sloppy track was excellent and indicated that Skywalker is ahead of schedule in his campaign to win the Classic for the second straight year.
Michael Whittingham, who trains Skywalker, would have preferred a fast track for the 5-year-old horse's first race in eight months, but because of the limited timetable, no thought was given to scratching him.
"If we don't get this race into him, we would have been in serious trouble," Whittingham said. "More rain is forecast, and the track will be even worse tomorrow. You start backing him up four or five days, and then, all of a sudden, you've run out of time."
Skywalker, who paid $4.80 as the favorite, beat four rivals, including stablemate Hot Sauce Baby. He will now run in either the 1 1/8-mile Goodwood Handicap Nov. 7 or the Koester Handicap, which is a mile on grass the next day. On Breeders' Cup day, Tom Tatham, who heads the syndicate that races Skywalker, is leaning toward the 1-mile Classic on dirt, but he said another possibility is the Mile Stakes, which is on grass and worth $1 million.
Friday, Skywalker, breaking from the outside, settled into third place, about six lengths off the lead, while Hot Sauce Baby and On the Line battled up front.
Some slop hit Skywalker in the face and he started to climb. That made Tatham nervous, but Eddie Delahoussaye, riding Skywalker for regular jockey Laffit Pincay, wasn't concerned.
"He was climbing a little, but he wasn't backing up," Delahoussaye said. "This horse is remarkable. This was a very strong outing for a horse who has been away that long and comes back carrying 122 pounds (8 more than On the Line)."
Hot Sauce Baby, who finished third, dropped back coming into the stretch, and it still looked as though On the Line might hold on. But Delahoussaye switched his whip to the right hand, whacked a few times, and Skywalker passed the 3-year-old colt with about 20 yards to go.
Pincay was in New Jersey Friday night, riding Creme Fraiche to a nose victory in the $500,000 Meadowlands Cup. Creme Fraiche, who paid $7.80 to win, jumped past Afleet at the wire. Cryptoclearance was third. Creme Fraiche ran the 1 miles in 2:01 4/5.
Should Skywalker get to the Breeders' Cup, the jockey situation is not set.
"It's too early to be thinking about that," Whittingham said. "Laffit obviously fits this horse, but you can't fault Eddie's ride today, either."
Pincay, who won the Classic with Skywalker last year, also has been riding Super Diamond, who might be supplemented into the Classic if his owners want to pay $360,000.
Even Delahoussaye has another Classic possibility. He'll ride Stop the Fighting in the Hawthorne Gold Cup Nov. 7, and a good performance could send that horse to the Breeders' Cup.
"The main thing is that at least I've got my foot in the door with Skywalker," Delahoussaye said.
It's a door that may have another $1.35-million purse waiting on the other side.
Horse Racing Notes The Wayne Lukas-trained entry of Dream Team, Lost Kitty and Blue Jean Baby has been installed as a 4-5 favorite by Jeff Tufts, the Santa Anita linemaker, for today's $200,000 Oak Leaf Stakes. Other 2-year-old fillies running in the 1 1/16-mile race are Tomorrow's Child, Sheesham and Fa La Te Dough, who trailed Dream Team to the finish in the seven-furlong Anoakia two weeks ago, and Braujoia, who had never won until seven weeks ago. . . . Lukas has won the Oak Leaf four of the last five years, with Landaluce, Life's Magic, Arewehavingfunyet and Sacahuista. . . . Santa Anita will have a 10th race on today's card because it's offering betting on the televised Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap from Bay Meadows.
With the return of Pacific Standard Time, an earlier first post of 12:30 p.m. starts Sunday and will be in effect for the rest of the season. . . . Short Sleeves, one of the best female grass runners in the country, will bid for her fourth straight win Sunday in the $100,000 Las Palmas Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. Her opponents are Autumn Glitter, Auspiciante, Festivity, Galunpe, Fair Country, Benzina, Secuencia and Smooch. . . . Theatrical, the current favorite for the Breeders' Cup Turf, runs today at Aqueduct in the Man o' War Stakes. . . . Trainer Woody Stephens has indicated that Forty Niner, perhaps the best 2-year-old colt in the country, won't be running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.