'Selfishness' boosts 'Skip's' richest bid Hines reap rewards of retirement delay

October 10, 1998|By TOM KEYSER | TOM KEYSER,SUN STAFF

On the verge of saddling Skip Away for a potentially histori performance, Sonny Hine acknowledged that racing the horse this year was an act of selfishness.

"We probably should have retired him last year," Hine said. "But we were selfish with him, my wife especially. We wanted to see him run another year."

Hine's wife is Carolyn, who owns Skip Away. She grew up in Highlandtown, married Sonny after meeting him on a blind date in Florida and years later received a birthday present from him: Skip Away.

Today, the 5-year-old gray steamroller can eclipse Cigar's record for earnings by winning the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. With a bankroll of $9,506,360, Skip Away is $493,455 short of Cigar's $9,999,815.

Skip Away must win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a Grade I stakes at 1 1/4 miles, and collect its $600,000 top prize to become the first horse to earn more than $10 million. Anything less than victory would mean that history must wait until the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs.

That will be Skip Away's last race. He is being syndicated for $18 million to stand at stud next year at Hopewell Farm in Kentucky.

The Hines said the earnings title is important because it would affirm Skip Away's greatness.

"I want the horse to get all the accolades he deserves," Sonny S. Hine Hine said. "I want people to realize he's one of the true greats.

"I just want people to remember Skippy. If he becomes the top money-earner of all time, he'll be hard to forget."

Said Carolyn: "I'm looking forward to the race. I'm a believer. I believe in my horse. I believe in my trainer. I believe in my jockey."

Jerry Bailey rides Skip Away, who already has his place in history. He won Eclipse awards as top 3-year-old in 1996 and top older horse last year.

This year, he will surely be voted Horse of the Year.

A victory today would be his third straight in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, a feat surpassed by only Kelso.

Kelso, one of Hine's favorite horses, won the Gold Cup five years in a row, from 1960 through 1964.

And a victory would be Skip Away's 10th straight, dating to last year's Gold Cup. In the Gold Cup two years ago, Skip Away, then 3, defeated Cigar, who was 6.

This year, Skip Away has compiled a record strikingly similar to Cigar's in 1995, when the two-time Horse of the Year reeled off 10 straight victories.

Skip Away can still achieve something no horse, not even Cigar, has: back-to-back Breeders' Cup Classic victories.

Sonny Hine paid $30,000 for Skip Away as a 2-year-old, and then received a $7,500 refund after discovering a bone chip in one knee. What did he expect from the horse?

"When I bought him, I just hoped he was worth the $30,000 I originally paid for him," Hine said. "Who would have thought I could catch lightning in a bottle?"

Five horses will challenge Skip Away in the Gold Cup, including Gentlemen and Running Stag. They finished second and third, respectively, to Skip Away three weeks ago in the Woodward Stakes.

Dick Mandella, who trains Gentlemen, said his 6-year-old horse will race in blinkers for the first time -- after 22 races, 13 victories and $3.4 million in earnings.

Mandella said he is searching for that one ingredient to return Gentlemen to his peak of last year, when he defeated Skip Away in the Pimlico Special.

L Like Skip Away, Gentlemen will retire to stud at year's end.

"He's doing awfully well right now," Mandella said. "He acts like he's ready for bear."

And how's Skip Away doing?

"I would say he's coming into this race better than the Woodward," Sonny Hine said. "If he runs the way he's feeling, he's going to be awesome."

Notes: The Jockey Club Gold Cup heads one of racing's best days: Breeders' Cup Preview Day, five Grade I stakes at Belmont Park. Two outstanding grass runners from Maryland will compete in the $500,000, 1 1/2 -mile Turf Classic Invitational: Cetewayo, trained by Michael Dickinson at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County, and the Maryland-bred Ops Smile, trained by Bill Boniface at his family's Bonita Farm in Harford County. In the $400,000, 1 1/8 -mile Beldame, the Maryland-bred Snit, conditioned by Barclay Tagg, will challenge the top fillies Sharp Cat and Tomisue's Delight. The other Grade I stakes are for 2-year-olds: the $400,000, 1 1/16-mile Champagne and the $400,000, 1 1/16-mile Frizette for fillies.

Race facts

What: Jockey Club Gold Cup

Where: Belmont Park

When: Today

Purse: $1 million

Grade: I

Distance: 1 1/4 miles

Post time: 5: 46 p.m.

TV: NBC

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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