An investment returned many times over Bought for $22,500, Skip Away nearing mark for career winnings

September 18, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. — BELMONT, N.Y. -- Sonny Hine has stopped defending Skip Away. He doesn't have to anymore.

Skip Away has won eight straight. He has won carrying weight, the mark of greatness. He has finished first, second or third in all but three of his 35 races. "He's finally getting a lot of respect," Hine said yesterday at Belmont Park. "I don't think I have to blow his horn anymore."

And now, Skip Away is approaching a record that would ensure his place in history. His earnings of $9,206,360 fall $793,455 short of Cigar's all-time mark. Cigar retired two years ago with a bankroll of $9,999,815.

Skip Away could surpass Cigar with a victory tomorrow in the $500,000 Woodward Stakes ($300,000 to the winner) and Oct. 10 in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup ($600,000 to the winner). Both races are here at Belmont Park.

If he falters, he'll have one more chance: the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs.

"It's a goal my wife and I set for the horse," Hine said. "We want people to remember the horse. He's probably done enough to be remembered already. But it'd be great to have that money total also."

Added Carolyn Hine, his wife and owner of Skip Away: "It's for the horse. It's not for me. I want no accolades. They are the ones who go out and put their life on the line every time they run."

Carolyn Hine is a native of Highlandtown, although she no longer lives in Maryland. And Sonny Hine trained horses in Maryland nearly three decades.

Sonny bought Skip Away for $22,500 when the colt was 2, and he gave him to Carolyn. That just might be the buy of the century. Skip Away has not only won $9.2 million, but he also is valued at $18 million as a stallion.

The Hines plan on retiring Skip Away, who is 5, after the Breeders' Cup and sending him to stud in Kentucky. Carolyn has mixed feelings about that.

"I'm the one who wanted to run him until he turned white and grew a long beard," she said of the gray, dappled horse. "He's touched my heart from Day One. I don't know how I'm going to accept his retirement."

Skip Away has been in training four straight years. He has never returned to the farm for rest. That is not lost on Sonny.

"He's just a remarkable horse," Sonny said. "He's done everything we've asked of him. He's been good to us, and now it's time we were good to him."

But first, Skip Away must face three other multiple Grade winners in the Woodward, one of the nation's great races. Skip Away, Free House, Gentlemen and Coronado's Quest -- in addition to the French mystery horse Running Stag -- compose one of the toughest fields assembled in America in decades.

Skip Away drew post No. 2 yesterday and was deemed the 6-5 morning-line favorite. Fresh from an overpowering victory in the $1 million Pacific Classic, Free House is 9-5. Gentlemen, second in the Pacific Classic, is 7-2. And Coronado's Quest, Stuart S. Janney III's 3-year-old facing older horses for the first time, is 4-1.

After Coronado's Quest drew the outside post in the 1 1/8 -mile stakes -- a one-turn race on Belmont's massive 1 1/2 -mile oval -- Janney said by telephone from Maryland that the starting position should suit the colt.

He and jockey Pat Day, filling in for the injured Mike Smith, can assess the break and decide whether to take the lead or stalk the pace, which most likely would be Skip Away.

About challenging older horses, Janney said: "I think older horses have an advantage this time of year. But, you know, what the heck? We think we've got a good horse at a track he likes at a distance he likes.

"I don't know if we'll win or not, but we're not going over there just to compete, just to show up."

NOTE: The Woodward is one of three major stakes tomorrow at Belmont. Sharp Cat is the 4-5 early favorite in the Grade I $250,000 Ruffian Handicap, which will be televised on ESPN2 before the Woodward.

In the $150,000 Jerome Handicap, a Grade II one-mile stakes for 3-year-olds, Secret Firm is the highweight at 121 pounds. That includes his jockey Edgar Prado, who will travel from Maryland for the mount.

Secret Firm drew post No. 5 in a stellar field that includes Grand Slam, Limit Out, Dice Dancer and Scatmandu. H. Graham Motion, based at Laurel Park, trains Secret Firm, a winner of six straight races.

Woodward Stakes

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

When: Tomorrow, post time 5: 12 p.m.

TV: ESPN2. Grade: I. Distance: 1 1/8 miles. Purse: $500,000.

The field

PP Horse .. .. .. . .Trainer .. .. .. ..Jockey .. .. .. ..Wt. Odds

1 Running Stag .. .. Phillip Mitchell ..Ray Cochrane .. .126 30-1

2 Skip Away .. .. . .Sonny Hine .. .. ..Jerry Bailey .. .126 6-5

3 Gentlemen .. .. .. Richard Mandella ..Corey Nakatani ..126 7-2

4 Free House .. .. . Paco Gonzalez .. ..Chris McCarron ..126 9-5

5 Coronado's Quest ..Shug McGaughey .. .Pat Day .. .. .. 121 4-1

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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