Sky Jack joined some elite company on Sunday when the 6-year-old gelding by Jaklin Klugman became the fifth California-bred to win the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), the premier race for older horses at the Inglewood, Calif., racetrack. Sky Jack won the 1 1/4-mile fixture under 55-year-old Laffit Pincay Jr. after a stretch-long duel with Momentum, finally prevailing by a nose.
Previous California-breds to win the Gold Cup were Swaps (1956), Native Diver (1967), Ancient Title (1975), and Best Pal (1993).
Sky Jack's triumph was the ninth for Pincay, who first won the race in 1970 with Pleasure Seeker. The world's winningest rider had been tied with Bill Shoemaker with the most Gold Cup wins, eight. It was the first for trainer Doug O'Neill, who also was saddling his first grade I winner, and it was the initial Gold Cup victory for owner-breeders Rene and Margie Lambert, residents of Temecula, Calif., who race in the name of Ren-Mar Thoroughbreds.
Second choice in the wagering at 9-5 in the six-horse field, Sky Jack was coming off a wire-to-wire win in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood May 12. He loomed as the lone speed in the Gold Cup, a scenario that concerned Bobby Frankel, trainer of the 7-5 favorite, Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) winner Milwaukee Brew. Sky Jack did get the lead, but it wasn't uncontested, as longshot Macaneo pushed him along early through fractions of :23.41 and :46.94. By the time Pincay and the roan-coated Sky Jack reached the far turn, Macaneo was finished, but Garrett Gomez had Momentum in gear, and the Craig Dollase-trained runner was lapped around the front-runner around the final turn and into the stretch, following six-furlong and one-mile splits of 1:11.42 and 1:35.00.
Down the stretch, Pincay went to work with his left hand while Gomez used a right-handed stick on Momentum, just to Sky Jack's outside. Momentum never could get in front of Sky Jack, but he closed the margin to a desperate nose at the wire, the 1 1/4 miles clocked in 2:01.73. Momentum was three lengths clear of Milwaukee Brew, who never threatened after falling more than 10 lengths behind the leader down the backstretch. Dollar Bill, the only starter to ship from out of state, was fourth, followed by Dig for It and Macaneo.
"He won with courage," Pincay said afterwards. "It was a terrific race. I was surprised when that horse came up beside me and I said, 'Boy, this is going to be a battle.'" When asked to compare this victory with previous Gold Cup triumphs, Pincay said, "It's even more fun now. I don't have that many years in me. I enjoy every win now. Pretty soon I'm going to have it give it up. But right now I'm having a good time."
Sky Jack was winning for the eighth time in 14 career starts in a career that has been hampered by two knee and colic surgeries. The gelding didn't race in 2001 because of the severity of his second colic surgery, but he returned after a 14-month layoff in February and now is enjoying his best season yet.
The Lamberts purchased Sky Captive, dam of Sky Jack, as a yearling at the 1991 October Barretts yearling and horses of racing age sale for $6,000. With his Gold Cup victory, Sky Jack boosted his career earnings to $929,267. He paid $5.80 as the second choice in the betting.