ELMONT, N.Y. -- Carolyn Hine received her anniversary present nine days early.
All she wanted was for her Skip Away to defeat the great Cigar in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup yesterday at Belmont Park. Skip, as she calls her beefy gray colt, obliged, presenting the Highlandtown native and her husband, Sonny, the gift of a lifetime.
As 22,241 fans roared on a cool fall afternoon, Skip Away withstood Cigar's usually overpowering late surge to win the 1 1/4 -mile race by a head.
After Skip Away put away pacesetter Louis Quatorze heading for home, the final challenge commenced: Cigar gaining, gaining, gaining in what could be called a Maryland match race, but falling a whisker short.
"We were lucky to hang on," said Sonny Hine, the 65-year-old trainer of Skip Away who met his wife on a blind date. "If Cigar had kept a straight course, he might have beaten us."
As Cigar pursued Skip Away down the homestretch, Cigar's jockey, Jerry Bailey, smacked him five times with a left-handed whip. Cigar veered drastically from the whipping toward the center of the track, perhaps losing the crucial few inches that cost him the race.
"We just got beat. It happens," Bailey said. "We just met a horse we couldn't beat today."
Bill Mott, Cigar's trainer, also offered no excuses.
"If we had to go back and do it over again, maybe Jerry would place him closer," Mott said. "But you can't go back. He's won some big races running just like this."
Cigar, the 1-5 favorite, won 16 races in a row, tying Citation's modern record for a horse based in North America, before finishing second in August in Del Mar's Pacific Classic. He rebounded with an impressive win last month in Belmont's Woodward Stakes. Yesterday was the 6-year-old champion's first showdown with the country's top 3-year-olds.
With Shane Sellers in the irons, Skip Away, who finished second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, paid $13.60 to win after barreling over the 1 1/4 -mile course in 2 minutes, 3/5 seconds. Louis Quatorze, winner of the Preakness, held on for third. The exacta paid $25.80 and the trifecta $84.50.
Editor's Note, winner of the Belmont, rallied for fourth. Mahogany Hall and Secreto de Estado filled out the finish.
The Skip Away-Cigar battle highlighted a great day of racing in New York that proved to be good for Marylanders. Cigar was born at Country Life Farm near Bel Air. Carolyn Hine grew up in Baltimore, and Sonny trained horses in Maryland for years.
In yesterday's $500,000, 1 1/2 -mile Turf Classic, two Maryland-breds finished second and fourth: Awad and Ops Smile. They both were bred at James P. Ryan's Ryehill Farm in Mt. Airy and share the same sire, Caveat. The 5-1 Diplomatic Jet won the Turf Classic for owner Fred W. Hooper, who turns 99 today.
In the $400,000 1 1/16-mile Moet Champagne Stakes, the Mary Eppler-trained Traitor finished second as the 8-5 favorite behind 7-1 Ordway. Traitor is owned by 84-year-old Alfred G. Vanderbilt, former owner of Sagamore Farm in Baltimore County.
The question for Eppler and Vanderbilt is: Will they race Traitor, one of the nation's most promising 2-year-olds, in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile in three weeks at Woodbine near Toronto? Eppler has said she wants to, Vanderbilt has said he's not keen on it. The answer, they said yesterday, will come in a few days.
The question is the same for the Hines. Skip Away was not nominated to the Breeders' Cup as a foal, which means the Hines would have to pay $480,000 to run him in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.
He would have to finish in the top three to break even.
They have said all along they wouldn't do it, but yesterday Sonny Hine left the door open a crack. He said that owners for whom he trains have offered to put up the money. "He'd probably love going," Hine said of the feisty Skip Away. "He's doing so good I don't know how we'd stop him."
Skip Away would face Cigar again at Woodbine, where Cigar will try to become the first horse to win back-to-back Breeders' Cup Classics.
But yesterday belonged to Skip Away, and the Hines reveled in it. Sonny paid $22,500 for the Skip Trail colt last year and gave him to Carolyn for her birthday. Skip Away has earned nearly $2.8 million.
On Oct. 14, the Hines celebrate their 34th anniversary.
Still aglow over their greatest thrill in three decades of business and personal partnership, Sonny turned to Carolyn, whose red hair was glistening, and said: "Happy anniversary, dear."
They smooched, and then he asked: "Does this mean I don't have to buy you a present?"
Pub Date: 10/06/96