Skip Away: The Unlikely Story of an FBI Agent and a Gray Racehorse

Skip Away wins the 1996 Blue Grass Stakes. (Anne Eberhardt/Blood-Horse)

The story of Skip Away begins with Carolyn Hine, wife of late Hall of Fame trainer Sonny Hine, wishing for a white Thoroughbred.

Carolyn has diminished eyesight and wanted to be able to follow her horse beyond her blazing red and yellow silks. Sonny explained that white horses are extremely hard to find, but he attended a sale for 2-year-olds at Calder Race Course in Miami to see whether he might find a modestly priced gray horse that could run a bit.

The couple settled on Skip Away, purchasing him for $30,000, only to be told by their veterinarian to return him because x-rays revealed bone chips in one ankle. Although the Hines did so, they were so disappointed that Sonny pulled over at the side of the road. There was something about that horse. They returned to speak to the seller, who provided a $7,500 discount to cover an ankle operation that proved unnecessary.

Skip Away with owner-trainer Sonny Hine after the 1997 Breeders' Cup Classic (Blood-Horse photo)
And Carolyn never had any problem spotting Skip Away. He finished in the top three in all but four of his 38 races, winning 18 times with 10 second-place finishes and six third-place showings for earnings of $9,616,360 while providing memories to last a lifetime.

“My memories are my treasures,” said Carolyn during a 2016 phone interview from her Florida home. “Everything about Skip Away was a blessing. I lived my dream.”

Under the steady hand of Hine, a former F.B.I. agent who had been invaluable to the government because he spoke Mandarin Chinese fluently, Skip Away seemed to get better with every race. His first stakes win came as a 3-year-old, when he routed eventual Preakness winner Louis Quatorze by six lengths in the Blue Grass Stakes and set a stakes record on a wet-fast track at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.

He never took to the surface at Churchill Downs and his Kentucky Derby chances were further diminished by a far outside post, leading to a poor finish in the opening leg of the Triple Crown. He rebounded to finish second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. One of his signature triumphs would come later in the year when he conquered Cigar, winner of 17 of his previous 18 races, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. The son of Skip Trial refused to yield to Cigar’s valiant stretch run, fending him off by a brave head.

Skip Away’s 4-year-old campaign eventually brought a jockey change from Shane Sellers to Jerry Bailey; the new team prospered by rattling off eight consecutive victories. The big decision that year involved whether to pay $480,000 to supplement the Florida-bred to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  The Hines never had much before their beloved “Skippy” arrived and he was treated with the affection of a child they never had, adding to the complexity of the situation.

“I thought I’d choke. I didn’t think I’d be able to write it,” Carolyn said of filling out the check. “It was what Sonny felt, and I never questioned his judgment.”

Skip Away in retirement at Hopewell Farm in Kentucky. (Anne Eberhardt/Blood-Horse)
Sonny knew his horse. Skip Away romped by six lengths in the 1997 Classic at Hollywood Park, setting a record of 1:59:16 under another new rider, Mike Smith. The reward for their faith in him was a cool $2.3 million.

Skip Away was arguably at his best at 5, when he was honored as Horse of the Year in 1998. Although he failed to repeat in the Classic, again struggling with a Churchill Downs surface that can be a difficult adjustment for some horses, his final season was highlighted by a seven-race winning streak – all with Bailey at the reins - that included five Grade 1 victories.

Sonny, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, died in 2000 at age 69. Skip Away, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, succumbed to an apparent heart attack 10 years after his trainer passed. He is buried at the Old Friends Farm in Georgetown, Ky. Carolyn carries on, still very much in love with Sonny and the horse of their dreams.

Note: This story was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated.

Fun Facts

  • Blood-Horse magazine ranked Skip Away 32nd among the top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 20th century.
  • Skip Away was credited with 53 bullet workouts during his career.
  • Skip Away sired 522 foals, including 26 stakes winners from 303 winners, that produced $23,036,202 in earnings.
  • Champion steeplechaser Slip Away and Skipshot, who won the Swaps Stakes, are considered two of his most noteworthy offspring.
  • Gulfstream Park renamed the Broward Handicap for Skip Away in 2001.

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