Out of blue, 'Skip' comes under 'attack' Freak incident leaves famed horse's handlers wondering what's next

Breeders' Cup notebook

November 05, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Everybody seems out to get Skip Away.

First, Silver Charm resurrects himself after a dismal summer and comes into Saturday's showdown with Skip Away in top form. Then, the owner of Gentlemen decides to race his gutsy horse in the Breeders' Cup Classic against Skip Away.

And now, in the category of fact-is-stranger-than-fiction, we have this: At about 3: 30 a.m. yesterday, debris from a Boeing 747 fell on Barn 36, Skip Away's home at Churchill Downs.

A United Parcel Service jet had just taken off from Louisville International Airport when it struck a flock of birds, according to UPS spokesman Ken Shapero. The plane suffered minor engine damage, and broken parts from a fiberglass spinner and perhaps other debris fell to the ground, Shapero said.

Skip Away's trainer, Sonny Hine, took the mishap in stride.

"They say parts of the plane hit the barn, and it was loud," Hine said. "I don't think it affected the horses very much.

"I guess I'm going to have to get some anti-aircraft up there now. [Skip Away] has got everything coming at him from the ground and now the sky."

No one was injured. The plane returned safely to the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.

Smiling, but worried

Banshee Breeze, the 6-5 early favorite in the Distaff, breezed a half-mile in 49 2/5 seconds. Asked about the work, Carl Nafzger, trainer of the 3-year-old filly, told reporters: "I'm smilin', ain't I?"

But back at his barn, Nafzger expressed concern about the race without Sharp Cat, who was withdrawn Saturday after suffering severe muscle cramps. Sharp Cat would have been the heavy favorite and most likely the rapid pacesetter.

Nafzger said the race now favors Escena, the 5-year-old mare trained by Bill Mott.

"Escena's a brilliant mare," Nafzger said. "This mare will go to the lead so easy. You study her history. If she gets out and gives you a half-mile in 48 3/5 or 48 4/5 seconds, you ain't going to catch her.

"You take Banshee Breeze, Keeper Hill and Tap to Music, and you put them all together two or three lengths off Escena, and Escena backs that pace up, you're in trouble. I know all three of us are going to be running hard at the end, but I know Escena's going to be flying, and she loves this racetrack."

Banshee Breeze has won three straight Grade I stakes. Her streak started after getting bumped June 27 in the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park.

"Ever since then, she's like, 'OK, I'm focused,' " Nafzger said. "I don't know what caused it. It's just one of those things."

Et cetera

Royal Anthem, a favorite in the Breeders' Cup Turf, breezed four furlongs on the grass in 50 3/5 seconds. His trainer, Henry Cecil, pronounced him fully recovered from his recent hoof problem. Coronado's Quest tuned up for the 1 1/4 -mile Classic with a half-mile breeze in 48 1/5 seconds at Belmont Park. He will arrive early tomorrow at Churchill Downs. "I think 1 1/4 miles is probably not his best race," said his trainer, Shug McGaughey. "But he might possibly be on top of running his best race. Some of the others might be tailing off." Swain, the Dubai World Cup runner-up, completed his major work for the Classic with a five-furlong breeze in 1 minute, 2 1/5 seconds. Patrick Byrne was thrilled with the post positions for his three major contenders. He said he preferred Awesome Again on the inside (post 3) and Touch Gold on the outside (post 9) in the Classic. And he said Wild Rush (post 1 in the Sprint) loves the rail.

The best horse possibly hurt the worst by post position is Labeeb, the morning-line favorite in the Mile. He drew post 13. Because of the shape of Churchill Downs' turf course, an outside post almost guarantees a wide trip. In the three previous runnings of the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs, only one horse in the Mile (1994 runner-up Johann Quatz) finished in the top three.

Louisville's spring-like weather vanished early in the week with two days of occasional showers and chilly winds. But the forecast through Saturday calls for no rain with high temperatures in the 50s. Expect a dry track and firm turf.

Breeders' Cup

What: Seven races, worth at least $13 million

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.

When: Saturday TV: Ch. 11, 1 p.m.

Races, probable favorites

$1M Juvenile: 1: 25 p.m., The Groom Is Red, three-horse entry of Cat Thief, Mountain Range and Tactical Cat

$1M Juvenile Fillies: 2 p.m., Silverbulletday, Excellent Meeting

$1M Sprint: 2: 35 p.m., Affirmed Success, Wild Rush

$1M Mile: 3: 10 p.m., Desert Prince

$2M Distaff: 3: 34 p.m., Banshee Breeze

$2M Turf: 4: 25 p.m., Royal Anthem, Military (entry)

$5M Classic: 5: 05 p.m., Skip Away, Silver Charm

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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