A 1 1/8-mile dirt route with a field of eight older horses, the Skip Away sets up as an ideal chance for Hunting to display the style shown during a game outside finish in last year’s Stuyvesant Handicap (gr. III) and an easy 4 ½-length victory in an October allowance event at Monmouth Park for trainer Shug McGaughey. Out of the A.P. Indy mare Meghan’s Joy, the chestnut gelding figures to lay off the pace when he breaks from the outside hole under Kent Desormeaux.
“I think there’ll be plenty of speed up in front of us, and we’ll like that,” McGaughey said. “You’ve gotta be patient with him. Kent (Desormeaux) rode him one time and maybe laid up a little too close to them. We talked about it and he said ‘I’d like to ride him back, I know how to ride him now.’ So we’ll see.”
“There wasn’t anything wrong with him but he was a little beat up coming out of New York last winter; he’d been going for a while out there in the cold,” the trainer said. “I had him at Payson Park (training center) and I brought him to Gulfstream but I didn’t think he was ready for the Gulfstream Park Handicap so we got a few extra weeks in and he’s been looking good.”
Another runner looking for a return to winning form is Centaur Farms’ homebred Gottcha Gold, also a 5-year-old son of Coronado’s Quest. Earlier last year, the Eddie Plesa Jr. trainee raced to the Breeders’ Cup with a pair of graded wins in Monmouth Park’s Salvator Mile Handicap (gr. III) and Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. III) before running second to Corinthian after setting the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Given time off following that Oct. 26 move, Gottcha Gold returned to racing in the Jan. 26 Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita – but finished ninth in his first attempt over a synthetic surface.
“It wasn’t rough in the sense that he got bounced around,” Plesa said. “He broke good and was laying where I wanted him to be when he got to the backside, second off the speed horse. But some horse loomed up outside of him and got him into the bit more than I liked. Strategically it was a bad trip and it was a horrible racetrack. He overcame a lot.”
Out of the Pleasant Tap mare Gottcha Last, Gottcha Gold is definitely keen on setting the pace when on top of his game. Look for him to be on or near the lead as he breaks from post two under Charles C. Lopez.
“He’s been training very well and needless to say we’re looking for a big effort away from Monmouth Park,” Plesa said. “We’ll see what happens.”
John Oxley’s Dr. Pleasure has been a source of frustration for his connections, as he’s registered just one victory in 13 starts for trainer John Ward Jr. Still, the Thunder Gulch homebred has turned in solid runner-up performances in two stakes at Gulfstream this year, beaten less than a length in both events. Out of the Eclipse Award-winning Beautiful Pleasure, Dr. Pleasure was third behind Bernardini and Bluegrass Cat in the 2006 running of the Travers (gr. I). Jockey Jorge Chavez has the mount from post six.
Trainer Rick Dutrow has a pair entered in the Skip Away, with IEAH Stable and partners’ 5-year-old Frost Giant and Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ 6-year-old gelding Mr. Umphrey.
Frost Giant, bred in Kentucky by J.M.J. Stables out of the Gone West mare Takesmybreathaway, has won both of his starts at Gulfstream’s current meet, the first on turf in a dead heat and the second over the main track at the Skip Away distance by 4½ lengths. The son of Giant's Causeway earned just one win in four starts in England before coming to the U.S. last summer. His last race, a Feb. 11 event, was his first try on dirt.
Mr. Umphrey is an intriguing prospect. A 7-year-old son of Jules bred in Florida by Haras de la Pomme out of the Katowice mare Polish Delight, he comes back just five days after scoring a solid allowance victory by two lengths at 6½ furlongs March 10. Under Mario Madrid from post seven, he looks to contend with Gottcha Gold for the early lead.
Completing the field are Hardacre Farm’s Indy Wind, Robert Abbo Racing Stable’s Better Than Bonds, and Robert Dubois’ Pop Goes the Tiger.
$150,000 Skip Away Handicap (gr. III, race 9, post 5:13 EST), 1 1/8 miles, older horses, dirt
PP, Horse, Age, Weight, Jockey
1. Pop Goes the Tiger, 4, 114, Constantino Hernandez
2. Gottcha Gold, 5, 118, Charles C. Lopez
3. Indy Wind, 6, 116, Junior Alvarado
4. Better Than Bonds, 6, 116, Rene Douglas
5. Frost Giant, 5, 116, Edgar Prado
6. Dr. Pleasure, 5, 115, Jorge Chavez
7. Mr. Umphrey, 6, 115, Mario Madrid
8. Hunting, 5, 117, Kent Desormeaux