'Skip' not classic in finale Hines' horse is sixth in farewell as $5M race goes to 'Awesome'

Bid to surpass Cigar fails

Victor roars through hole, overtakes 'Charm'

November 08, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The day was the richest in the history of horse racing. The race was supposed to be the greatest ever run.

But when yesterday's race was over and darkness draped Churchill Downs, the day lay in tatters at the muddy feet of Skip Away. He had run his last. It was not nearly good enough.

Awesome Again, who had run up five straight races against second-tier competition, defeated what was perhaps the strongest field ever assembled for a horse race, the $5.12 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Skip Away floundered from the start and finished sixth. He did not earn a cent. In his final race before retirement to stud, he failed in his bid to pass Cigar as the leading money-earner of all time.

"I'm ready to cry, but I won't," said Sonny Hine, who trains the great gray for his wife Carolyn, a native of Highlandtown. "It's just a shame it turned out like it did."

The battle of the grays -- the first meeting of Skip Away and Silver Charm -- never materialized. Skip Away broke with unaccustomed tardiness and, despite a mild surge down the backstretch along the rail, did not gain position to engage Silver Charm in a tantalizing stretch duel.

Instead, when Silver Charm turned for home, he was chasing Coronado's Quest. The 3-year-old colt owned by Maryland's Stuart S. Janney III had led from the start of the 1 1/4 -mile race.

Coronado's Quest battled gamely but succumbed to Silver Charm's relentless attack. Then Silver Charm, with jockey Gary Stevens whipping, turned his attention to Swain, the English-based horse charging on the outside.

Stevens steered Silver Charm wide so he could see Swain. But Swain had no desire to be seen. Under persistent left-handed whipping from the English-based jockey Frankie Dettori, Swain drifted farther to the outside until he was closer to the grandstand than the rail.

With Silver Charm chasing Swain and Coronado's Quest straining along on the inside, a huge hole opened. Awesome Again, eighth down the backstretch, exploded through and reached the wire three-quarters of a length in front of Silver Charm.

As part of a three-horse entry, Awesome Again returned $11.40 to win. His time of 2 minutes 2 seconds did not threaten Secretariat's track record of 1 minute 59 2/5 seconds.

Silver Charm edged Swain by a neck for second. Victory Gallop rallied from last and overtook Coronado's Quest a few strides from the finish. With the horses spread out like sheets on a clothesline, it was easy to overlook how close the finish was. Four lengths separated the top five.

Some 2 1/4 lengths farther back, Skip Away struggled under the wire. His sixth-place finish was his worst since his 12th-place finish two years ago in the Kentucky Derby.

"I didn't ride him in the Derby, so I had no past history," said Jerry Bailey, who has ridden Skip Away for more than a year, losing only once before yesterday. "But he simply cannot handle this surface. I knew 50 yards into the race I was in trouble.

"Some horses handle some tracks, and some don't. That's the only thing I can write off for this race. In the stretch there was a hole there, but the hole was moving faster than I was."

Trainer of the two-time Eclipse Award winner, Hine also blamed the track for Skip Away's subpar performance.

"It was a lot like the Derby," he said. "We did everything we thought we should for this race. But by the time he reached the first turn, I knew we were in trouble.

"I am disappointed for the horse. He's one of the best I've ever seen. He gave me plenty. It's too bad it had to end on a sour note."

For the connections of Awesome Again, the outcome was storybook. The victory capped a 6-for-6 season and prompted Pat Byrne, his trainer, to throw the 4-year-old's hat into the ring for Horse of the Year.

"Awesome Again's done everything right," said Byrne, who trains exclusively for Canadian industrialist Frank Stronach. "I think everybody's got Skip Away tattooed for Horse of the Year. But this horse should not be counted out of the voting."

Pat Day rode Awesome Again for his third Classic victory in 15 renewals of racing's championship day. The Hall of Fame jockey, a legend in Kentucky, struggled to find words for racing's richest triumph. First place was worth $2,662,400.

"To win a race with this depth, it's just indescribable," Day said. "This was the granddaddy of them all. In 25 years of riding I have never seen a race with this kind of depth."

The Classic was so deep, in part, because R. D. Hubbard, the owner of Gentlemen, paid $800,000 to supplement the veteran campaigner into the race. As reward for paying more than anyone to enter a horse in a race, Hubbard collected nothing. Gentlemen bled from the lungs and struggled home last.

Bob Baffert, trainer of Silver Charm, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, said his gray horse tired in the final strides.

"He ran his heart out. He always does," Baffert said. "Skippy didn't show up, so the duel didn't happen."

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