Dripping wet, 'Skip' a heavyweight Mud seen no problem for colt in Special

May 09, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Skip Away galloped in the mud yesterday in what might be a dry run for today's Pimlico Special, one of the state's major races for thoroughbreds of national rank.

A rainy day at Pimlico seems likely, and Skip Away runs even better on wet tracks than he does on dry, said his trainer, Sonny Hine. Considering that he has won four straight races -- all Grade I -- on dry surfaces, a wet track further diminishes the chances of his four opponents.

"Oh, Skippy likes it wet, dry. Nothing bothers this horse," said Hine, who trains the top-ranked horse in North America for his wife, Carolyn. "If he catches muck like this, he'll be gone."

The $750,000, 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special is one of Maryland's two Grade I races, meaning it doesn't get much better than this. The other Grade I is the Preakness next Saturday at Pimlico.

Since Oct. 18, when Skip Away devoured his six rivals in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, the two-time Eclipse Award-winner has been invincible. He dominated the $4.4 million Breeders' Cup Classic in November at Hollywood Park and then, in February, swept Gulfstream Park's top races for older horses, the Donn Handicap and Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Today, Skip Away, 5, will be ridden by another two-time Eclipse Award winner, Jerry Bailey, and will be heavily favored against formidable foes, including Precocity. Precocity, 4, charged from next-to-last April 4 to win the Grade I Oaklawn Handicap at odds of 11-1. That impressive effort against Frisk Me Now and Phantom On Tour earned Precocity a return trip to Pimlico.

He began his career in Maryland in Pappy Manuel's barn, winning his first race at Pimlico in September of his 2-year-old season. After a change of ownership, he raced under Bob Baffert's care in California, and then John Franks, four-time Eclipse Award-winning owner, bought Precocity last summer.

In the barn of Bobby Barnett, ranked fourth among trainers in earnings, Precocity has flourished. Since stumbling over a downed horse -- Universe, who was euthanized -- and escaping injury in the Fayette Stakes last October at Keeneland, Precocity has finished first or second in six straight races.

"Everybody keeps saying we're all running for second [behind Skip Away]," Barnett said. "But it's all horse racing. We're here to run."

Like Skip Away, Precocity relishes a wet track. And so does the Richard Small-trainee Hot Brush, the lone entrant racing on his home track.

In his last start, Hot Brush won the Grade III John B. Campbell Handicap at Pimlico by seven lengths. In 15 starts, the 4-year-old son of Broad Brush has finished first, second or third all but twice. This is his toughest assignment.

H. Allen Jerkens, trainer of Wagon Limit, said his 4-year-old colt doesn't mind a wet track, having won in the slop at Saratoga. He won his last race, the Grade III, one-mile Westchester Handicap on April 4 at Aqueduct. But in earlier tries against Skip Away in Grade I stakes, Wagon Limit finished third, fourth and fifth at odds of 15-1, 38-1 and 80-1.

"Why are we coming?" Jerkens said, repeating the question. "They asked us to. What the heck. It's a big race. If we run real big, we've got a chance to get some of the money."

The one horse in the field who has not run well in the mud is Draw -- and he is the most curious entrant because of his jockey, Gary Stevens. Stevens is giving up a day of riding on the lucrative Southern California circuit to fly to Maryland to ride a seemingly overmatched horse whose last win was in allowance company last fall at Aqueduct.

Stuart S. Janney III, who owns the 5-year-old horse, said of his trainer, Shug McGaughey: "Shug doesn't enter a horse just to watch him run around the track."

Draw was a top 3-year-old early in 1996, but injuries sidelined him for 16 months -- first a splint problem and then a hairline fracture of his hip. "We've always thought he had the right to be a very, very good horse," Janney said. "Right now. he's really on top of his game."

NOTES: Klabin's Gold, Carnivorous Habit and Carson City Bandit head the field today in the $50,000 Hirsch Jacobs Stakes. The six-furlong race is the opener in the 3-year-old sprint division of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championships (MATCH).

On Friday, the Grade III, $100,000 Gallorette Handicap is the first race in MATCH's division for fillies and mares 3-and-older on the turf. And next Saturday, Preakness day, the $100,000 William Donald Schaefer Handicap kicks off the division for 3-year-olds and up long, and the Grade III, $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap is the opener for 3-and-older sprinters.

Pub Date: 5/09/98

If you go

What: 33rd Pimlico Special Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: Today, 4: 12 p.m.

Purse: $750,000.

Grade: I.

Distance: 1 3/16 miles.

TV: Chs. 2, 7.

Comment: Today is Fan Appreciation Day at Pimlico. Free general parking; free grandstand admission; free program; free Secretariat poster to first 10,000; poster signings by Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner, and Ron Turcotte, his jockey.

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