'Skip' leaving holes in hearts But Hines' memories of four years with horse unforgettable

November 09, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The throngs had gone -- the sports reporters back to their hockey games and the spectators back to their homes for a leisurely Sunday with the family.

Carolyn and Sonny Hine spent yesterday morning with their boy, Skip Away. In his stall at Churchill Downs, after finishing sixth the day before in his final race, the Breeders' Cup Classic, Skip Away underwent a veterinarian's examination in preparation for his transfer to Hopewell Farm outside Lexington.

The handoff from the Hines to Rick Trontz, the owner of Hopewell, will take place tomorrow.

For Carolyn Hine, the Baltimore native who owns the 5-year-old gray, and for Sonny Hine, her husband and the horse's trainer, giving up Skip Away marks the end of a sweet, profitable, busy, unforgettable chapter of their lives.

"He's dictated everything we've done the last 3 1/2 years," Sonny said.

"No regrets," said Carolyn. "He's been a blessing."

In 38 races over four years, Skip Away won 18 and earned $9,616,360. That's second on the all-time earnings list behind Cigar's $9,999,815.

Skip Away was incredibly consistent. All told, he finished worse than third only four times.

In 22 Grade I races, he finished first, second or third 20 times. The two times he didn't occurred at Churchill Downs -- two years ago in the Kentucky Derby, and Saturday. For reasons no one can seem to explain, some horses struggle over this dirt track.

"It's like with a child," said Carolyn Hine. "You try to feed them something and they keep spitting it out. 'I don't like it. I don't like it.' I think it's that way for Skip."

Added Sonny: "He'd never trained better. But you couldn't make him like the track.

"I knew he was beat by the time they hit the turn. They weren't running that fast. He'd have run right over them."

"I really felt if it was somewhere other than this racetrack," Carolyn said, "he'd have demolished them."

Instead, Awesome Again romped home first in the $5.12 million Classic, the richest race ever run, completing a perfect 6-for-6 season.

Even though his earlier races were against inferior foes, Awesome Again became a long-shot candidate for Horse of the Year.

Sonny Hine scoffed at that.

"You can't play JV games and be champion," he said.

And that was the end of that. Skip Away will be voted Horse of the Year, or else it will be an upset for the ages.

"It was just a bad way to go out," Sonny said. "It was not a storybook ending."

The Hines have known for months the Classic would be Skip Away's last race. But the sad fact has sunk in gradually.

"Like last week," Carolyn said, "I was watching Skip work at Belmont, and Sonny's assistant turned to me and said, 'Do you realize, Ms. Hine, this is the last time we'll see him work?' That was very difficult."

And Saturday before the Classic, saddling Skip Away for the last time, Sonny said he struggled with his emotions.

"That was tough, very tough," he said.

Were those tears some thought they saw dripping down Sonny's cheeks?

"I'd rather not talk about it," Sonny said. "Like I told somebody earlier, I could never watch 'Lassie.' It broke me up. 'E.T.' was too much for me."

He changed the subject. He went into a doughnut shop the other day and the server told him he was eligible for the senior discount.

"I thought, 'Where in the hell did the years go?' " Sonny said. "We've been chasing these horses 36 years. I was doing it before I met Carolyn."

But as always with the Hines, the discussion returned to Skip Away.

"It's been a great ride," Sonny said. "We've given Skippy four years of our life. He's been so generous. But it's time to move on.

"I'll be glad to get on the road and let Carolyn chauffeur me to Florida."

But first, after Skip Away is loaded onto the van tomorrow for his new home at Hopewell, Carolyn and Sonny plan on following him to the farm.

They want to see where he'll live when the mares begin arriving for him next year.

And then it's on to southern Florida, to their condominium in Hallandale and the racetrack at Gulfstream Park. Sonny has horses to prepare for the meet that begins in January.

Does he have a barn full of stakes horses? Sonny laughed and said he thought he had a few promising ones.

"But no Skip Aways," he said. "They come once in a lifetime."

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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