One sire, one owner/breeder, one trainer, two homebreds. If it were possible to ride one jockey, this might very well have been a dead heat, rather than a first and third finish, respectively, for winner Skyring and his stablemate, Optimizer.
About an hour before capturing the second jewel of the Triple Crown May 18 at Pimlico Race Course, two D. Wayne Lukas trainees entered the gate for the 11/8-mile Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT). Calumet Farm sent out Skyring from post 10 and Optimizer from post 2.
After a clean break on the firm turf course, Gary Stevens piloted Skyring to the inside to set the pace with Humble and Hungry keeping in close behind. Joel Rosario settled Optimizer into third and Howe Great kept in fourth. Skyring led the field and held off rivals, including Humble and Hungry, while Optimizer traveled up the rail, holding onto third ahead of Howe Great. Leaving the far turn, Willcox Inn made his move from mid-pack, swinging wide to outpace the field and finish second behind Skyring. Optimizer finished third and Howe Great, fourth. It was a steady pace with fractions of :24.45 for the opening quarter, :48.32 for the half-mile, 1:11.98 at three-quarters, and 1:35.79 for the mile. The final time was 1:47.87. Winless in his last 11 starts, Skyring may just have needed a combination of the distance and the track to bring him back to the winner’s circle: his last visit to Pimlico, on Preakness day 2012, Skyring won the James W. Murphy Stakes. Counting his Dixie victory, Skyring’s record stands at 4-3-2 from his 20 starts. His earnings total $424,148.
Stevens praised his mount’s ability: “He went to the front easy enough. He just sprinted home. It was a very impressive performance.” Lukas was confident Skyring would do well at Pimlico. “This horse loved this turf course last year,” said the Hall of Fame trainer. “That’s why I told the owner, ‘We need to enter both (Optimizer and Skyring).’ ” That turned out to be good advice for Brad Kelley, whose Bluegrass Hall bred both colts, and who races under Calumet Farm. Both are sired by English Channel: Skyring out of Violet Lady, by Seattle Slew.
Skyring is the third stakes winner this year for English Channel. The 2007 champion grass horse who earned more than $5 million, English Channel ranks sixth on the third-crop sires list by earnings. Among his nine stakes winners are Blueskiesnrainbows (gr. II) and Channel Lady (gr. IIIT). English Channel stands at Lane’s End Farm near Versailles, Ky., for a fee of $25,000.—M.P.