Skip Away does the honors Woodward Stakes win moves colt step closer to Cigar's money mark

Horse of Year a certainty

Challengers fall away in 9th straight victory

September 20, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Skip Away won his ninth race in a row, sewed up Horse of the Year honors and solidified his rank in history in the prestigious Woodward Stakes yesterday at Belmont Park.

Coronado's Quest challenged him early. Free House challenged him around the turn. Gentlemen challenged him late.

But when all was said and done, all they had done was follow the swishing gray tail of Skip Away, the best horse in the world, perhaps one of the best of all time.

"He is some horse," said his trainer, Sonny Hine, "the best there is."

With his 1 3/4 -length triumph against one of the toughest fields assembled in years, Skip Away earned $300,000 of the $500,000 purse and moved closer to Cigar's all-time earnings record of $9,999,815.

Skip Away has earned $9,506,360. He would surpass Cigar with a victory Oct. 10 in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup here at Belmont.

"He's getting close to making history," said Shug McGaughey, trainer of Coronado's Quest. "He's an iron horse. He's carried weight. He's gone to California to run, he's gone to Massachusetts to run. He's done everything they've asked him to do."

The 3-year-old Coronado's Quest, challenging older horses for the first time, tried to run with Skip Away early but faltered around the turn and finished last.

"This was obviously not his day," said Stuart S. Janney III, the colt's majority owner from Butler in Baltimore County. "I'm not saying he was going to win, but he's probably got a better race in him."

Pat Day, the colt's jockey, said he came up "empty." McGaughey said it was "maybe just too much too soon" tackling the best horses in the North America after winning against 3-year-olds in the Haskell Invitational Handicap and Travers Stakes.

"I thought this was a tough race today," McGaughey said. "But it didn't pan out exactly the way everybody thought, with Coronado's Quest not running his race and Free House not running his.

"Maybe Skip Away made them not run their race."

The day belonged to Skip Away as soon as he walked into Belmont's lovely paddock. Fans cheered the great gray horse, and he swung his head this way and that, pricking his ears toward the noise.

And then, before an appreciative crowd of 20,237 on a splendid late-summer afternoon, he ran what has become the patented Skip Away race. He broke sharply, but Coronado's Quest took a brief early lead down the backstretch. (On Belmont's 1 1/2 -mile oval, a 1 1/8 -mile race starts at the far corner of the backstretch).

Skip Away, the even-money favorite, gained the lead midway down the backstretch and was never headed, despite challenges from the 3-2 Free House, 7-1 Gentlemen and even the 48-1 Running Stag from France. Coronado's Quest went off at 9-2.

Gentlemen finished second, nearly two lengths behind Skip Away but six lengths ahead of Running Stag, who rallied from last along the rail for third. Free House and Coronado's Quest brought up the rear.

Skip Away clicked off sizzling fractions -- a quarter mile in 45 2/5 seconds, three-quarters in 1 minute, 9 seconds, a mile in 1: 34 1/5 -- on the way to a final clocking of 1: 47 4/5.

He returned $4.20 to win and headed a $19.40 exacta. There was no trifecta wagering because there were only five horses entered.

As jockey Jerry Bailey brought Skip Away to the winner's circle, the crowd cheered again, and Bailey raised his helmet in salute, as he had done so often with Cigar.

Bailey declined to compare the horses, saying, "It's like having two kids. Which one do you love most?"

Of Skip Away, he said: "He does what he has to do. He spreads his race out so much. If they try to stay with him early, it costs them a little bit of their finish. But if they don't, he opens up too many lengths."

Carolyn Hine, the Highlandtown native who owns Skip Away, heard the cheering.

"I'm just so happy to share all this happiness with the racing fans," she said. "I could hear the applause. I just thought it was all so beautiful, so beautiful. I just want the horse to get all the honors and the accolades."

No one can deny them now. Even though respect came grudgingly despite his winning streak -- seven of the nine victories were in Grade I races -- Skip Away proved yesterday what his fans already knew. He is the top thoroughbred in the world.

Plans call for him to race twice more before retiring to stud -- in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in three weeks and the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs.

"Skippy's been honest all along," Sonny Hine said. "I feel great about him. He's just a great horse."

Pub Date: 9/20/98

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