Skip Away turned in a dominant performance in the 1997 Breeders' Cup Classic, winning by six lengths. (Photo courtesy oF Horsephotos.com)
By the time Skip Away reached his first Breeders’ Cup Classic, he had done nearly everything there was to do in North American racing.
The gray or roan colt finished second in a turf stakes races as a 2-year-old and went on to win the 1996 Blue Grass Stakes over eventual Preakness winner Louis Quatorze to secure his spot in that year’s Kentucky Derby. While he finished a disappointing 12th in the Derby, he went on to score a pair of seconds in the next two legs of the Triple Crown.
Skip Away was one of only four horses to defeat Cigar that season, beating the Horse of the Year by a head in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. With that win and two other Grade 1 victories that year, he took home champion 3-year-old male honors, the first of many championships he would earn throughout his career.
SKIP AWAY HOLDS OFF CIGAR IN 1996 JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos
Skip Away came back as a 4-year-old but at first it seemed as though he had lost a step, losing his first four races that season. While he was always second or third during the losing streak, he just couldn’t seem to get to the finish line in front for the win. Finally, almost six months into the year, Skip Away earned his first win of the year. The victory came by a head in the Massachusetts Handicap over Formal Gold and was a continuation of a rivalry that had started in that year’s Donn Handicap.
Nearly a month later, Skip Away won his second straight in the Suburban over Will’s Way with Formal Gold in third. Both of those horses turned the table on Skip Away in the next race, with Will’s Way edging Formal Gold by a nose and the pair beating Skip Away by 6 ½ lengths in the Whitney Handicap.
After Formal Gold won the next two matchups, Skip Away finally returned to the winner’s circle in October. Becoming the third horse since 1980 to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup twice, Skip Away was about to make sure his name was firmly placed in the record books. After running away to win the Gold Cup by 6 ½ lengths, Skip Away entered the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the favorite.
It was obvious half-way down the backstretch who the winner would be as Skip Away took command. He easily opened up five lengths on the field and cruised with the rest of the field battling for second behind him. By the time he crossed the finish line, Skip Away was six lengths in front, more than making up for the losses he had suffered throughout the year.
1997 BREEDERS' CUP CLASSIC
Mike Smith, aboard the horse for the first and only time, believed the performance was worthy of the sport’s top award and wasn’t shy about giving the press his opinion.
“If that ain't a Horse of the Year performance, I don't know what is,” Smith told the Seattle Times. “He just dominated out there.”
But Skip Away had to settle for one Eclipse Award that year, going home with champion older male honors as undefeated 2-year-old Favorite Trick took home the big prize.
Skip Away returned in 1998 with Jerry Bailey aboard. Bailey, who rode Cigar to 16 straight victories from 1994 to 1996, was about to experience another legendary run with Skip Away. The rising star took his game up to another level as a 5-year-old, a high feat for a horse that was already considered one of the more accomplished in the sport.
Skip Away, who was already on a two-race winning streak, followed nearly the same spring schedule he had run in 1997, only skipping the Texas Mile. But unlike the seconds and thirds he had recorded the previous year, Skip Away won his first four races of the season – three in Grade 1s – by a combined margin of 12 ½ lengths.
A change in plans was made that summer when Skip Away was sent to the West Coast. After his success at Hollywood Park in California the year before, he was returning to the track for the Hollywood Gold Cup. Skip Away was assigned 124 pounds, the lightest weight he would carry all year.
The ship seemed to take something out of the horse as he wasn’t as explosive as his previous races. But none of that mattered as he won the race by 1 ¾ lengths to become $600,000 richer in his trainer’s quest to make him the richest North American Thoroughbred ever.
SKIP AWAY WINNING HOLLYWOOD GOLD CUP
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos
Skip Away received two months off after the Gold Cup and returned in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap, a race that literally was made for him.
Monmouth Park had made many changes to the race to attract Skip Away, doubling the purse and adding an extra sixteenth of a mile to the former 1 1/16-mile race. The $300,000 Skip Away would get for winning was definitely an attraction for his connections, as was the lack of opposition.
Skip Away headed to Monmouth to take on the race he had lost to Formal Gold the year before. This time the race had a much easier field with none of the other entrants having a graded stakes win on their resumes. The weights reflected the relative ease it was thought Skip Away would have with the racing secretary assigning the horse a hefty 131 pounds. The weight spread reflected the disparity between Skip Away’s accomplishments compared with his challengers as the second highest weight assignment was 114 pounds, 17 pounds less than Skip Away.
The race wasn’t as easy as many thought it would be due to a horse named Stormin Fever, who carried 113 pounds. For the first time since his win streak started, a horse came within 1 ¾ lengths of Skip Away and even got his head in front in the stretch. But Skip Away showed the determination that had made him a champion when he came back to get the lead at the finish line by a nose. It was the closest winning margin of victory of Skip Away’s career.
“I know Skippy doesn't give up,” trainer Sonny Hine told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He's a very game horse, a true champion. I don't have to blow his horn anymore. His times are fast.”
Even though the Iselin was a tough race, it didn’t seem to take much out of Skip Away as he continued on his merry way less than a month later by adding a ninth straight victory to his resume in the Woodward Stakes. He defeated Gentlemen by 1 ¾ lengths after controlling the race nearly the entire way. He won so easily that his chart comment just read “about his business.”
Skip Away returned to the scene of his first win in the nine-race winning streak when he took on a field of five others at Belmont Park in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He had won the race the previous two years and was the heavy favorite with odds of 0.35-to-1 going into the race. But in a shocker, Skip Away faded to third after dueling with Gentlemen. In the stretch, Gentlemen also was overcome and longshot Wagon Limit pulled off a shocker, winning by 5 ½ lengths. After the race, Skip Away’s right front leg swelled up and Hines wasn’t sure if he would come back for the Breeders’ Cup Classic repeat, the race that had already been announced as his swan song.
A month later, Skip Away was entered in his second Classic in an attempt to become the first two-time winner of the race. But the curtain closed on the great horse’s career when he finished sixth after never seeing the lead. He was out of the money in the race, ending his career with $9,616,360 in purse earnings, $383,455 short of Cigar’s record.
“They come once in a lifetime,'' Hine told the New York Times after the Breeders’ Cup. “Sure, I'm unhappy to lose him. For the last three years, he's been our life.”
Skip Away was named that year’s Horse of the Year with seven wins in nine races. Overall, he won 18 of his 38 starts and finished off the board in only four of his races.
Skip Away was retired to Hopewell Farm, leaving Hine’s stable only a few days after his failed Breeders’ Cup attempt.
Skip Away had 95 foals in his first crop, of those 48 of those won at least one race and one became a champion in Panama. He produced 522 foals during his lifetime with 25 of those winning stakes and his 405 starters amassing $22.2 million in combined earnings as of Aug. 13.
In a sad ending to the story, Hine, who had been fighting cancer throughout Skip Away’s 5-year-old campaign, died in early 2000 without seeing the horse again. Skip Away died 10 years later of a heart attack after suffering from a heart condition for many years.
"He was a tough horse," Rick Trontz, Hopewell Farm’s owner, told the Blood-Horse. "He never showed any signs but he had a heart condition for years. Some people didn’t expect him to live as long as he did. He was a durable and hard-knocking sire and racehorse."
Skip Away’s second champion came the year of his death when Slip Away won champion steeplechaser honors.
SKIP AWAY AT HOPEWELL
Photo courtesy of Horsephotos
While Skip Away has been gone for 3 years, fans still have a chance to see more of his offspring hit the track this year, as he sired four 2-year-olds in his final season at stud. Of those four, three have been named: Skiptothelane, Skipper Annierose, and Fiftyshadeslighter.
Hine was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2003 with Skip Away following him in 2004.
After Skip Away’s induction, Hine’s wife, Carolyn, who owned the horse during his racing career, summed up his impact not only on his trainer but also on Hine’s whole family while talking to Blood-Horse.
“I think Skip Away kept Sonny going. He gave him some more years, more life. Skippy wasn’t a horse to us, he was a member of our family. He was a blessing.”