Skip Away: America's horse? Hines think he deserves that mantle as he makes debut today as 4-year-old

February 08, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- They were the cutest couple of all -- Carolyn and Sonny Hine, standing on stage waiting to receive their award.

At this week's Eclipse Awards dinner, the Hines stood next to Douglas Donn, president and CEO of Gulfstream Park, as he presented the coveted Eclipse on behalf of the 3-year-old champion Skip Away, owned by Carolyn and trained by Sonny.

And as they stood there in the bright lights before an audience of several thousand in tuxedos and gowns, this couple in their 35th year of marriage did something more typical of newlyweds. They held hands.

Carolyn, a native of Baltimore, accepted the award and said how lucky she is to have Skip Away. Then Sonny, who trained horses in Maryland for nearly 30 years, said he is doubly lucky.

"I've been sleeping with the owner for 35 years," he said.

And so it goes, another year, another season of racing. Cigar retires. Skip Away turns 4. Sonny retains his sense of humor, and the Hines remain one of racing's most popular and durable couples.

"It's all about the love we have for each other," Carolyn said yesterday. "And the love we have for our horses."

Especially Skip Away, who makes his 4-year-old debut today in the $300,000 Donn Handicap here at Gulfstream Park. And what's not to love? As the most consistent 3-year-old in North BTC America, Skip Away earned $2.6 million for his owner.

In today's Grade I, 1 1/8 -mile Donn, Skip Away takes on nine challengers, including several who are probably in better shape. This is Skip Away's first race since Oct. 5, 1996, when he beat Cigar by a head in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

One wonders whether Cigar in that race passed to Skip Away the baton as people's champ, just as Holy Bull is said to have passed it to Cigar in the 1995 Donn.

It seems too much to expect of Skip Away, or any horse, to fill the void created by the retirement of Cigar, but Carolyn is undaunted.

"I was raised to know your product," said Carolyn, who grew up in Highlandtown above the family business, Seaman's Furniture Store. "And I know my product. I know Skippy.

"I think he's a star. He deserves it all. Last year was a dress rehearsal. This year is the real thing."

Sonny is more reserved.

"It's a tough chore getting a horse ready after a four-month layoff," he said at his barn on the Gulfstream backstretch. "But it's especially tough with Skippy. He's a big, heavy horse. He's like a fat football player. It takes a lot more work to get a horse like that ready."

Sonny worked Skip Away hard in recent weeks, especially after Unbridled's Song emerged as the main threat. But Unbridled's Song, who would have challenged Skip Away for favoritism among bettors, was retired last week with a cracked bone in his leg.

"I know the people are looking for a hero," Sonny said. "We'll try to do our best for them."

The field for the Donn, from the rail out with jockeys, weights and odds:

Ghostly Moves, Santos, 112, 20-1; Diligence, Fires, 114, 15-1; Cimarron Secret, Velez, 113, 20-1; Formal Gold, Bravo, 113, 9-2; Ave's Flag, Davis, 113, 30-1; Mt. Sassafras, Day, 116, 12-1; Skip Away, Sellers, 123, 4-5; Crafty Friend, Smith, 114, 12-1; Mecke, Bailey, 120, 5-1; Jamie's First Punch, Coa, 112, 30-1.

Pulpit in spotlight

Despite his Eclipse Award and unlimited potential as an older star, Skip Away may not be the top attraction at Gulfstream Park. In today's sixth race, a $31,000 allowance test at 1 1/16 miles, Claiborne Farm's Pulpit makes his second start and first around two turns.

Pulpit didn't race as a 2-year-old but already is one of the favorites at 3 for the Triple Crown races. A royally bred son of A.P. Indy out of the Mr. Prospector mare Preach, Pulpit awed observers last month with an overpowering 7 1/2 -length victory that became the most heralded debut in years.

Also today, two 3-year-olds from Maryland's contingent aiming for the Kentucky Derby see combat: Smoke Glacken in Arkansas and Concerto in New York.

Smoke Glacken, a Maryland-bred son of Two Punch out of Majesty's Crown, races in the $50,000 six-furlong Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Concerto, trained by Maryland-based John J. Tammaro III, competes in the $50,000 1 1/16-mile Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct.

Pub Date: 2/08/97

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