Hine Latest Trainer Inducted into Hall of Fame

Published in the Aug. 2, 2003 issue of The Blood-Horse
If the halls of the National Museum of Racing seem a little brighter after Aug. 4, it is because of the presence of Hubert H. "Sonny" Hine, the latest trainer to be inducted into racing's Hall of Fame.

Not only was Hine deserving of the honor based on his career achievements, and his training of Skip Away, one of the greatest and most durable horses of the modern era, he deserved it because of his class and the warmth he generated for five decades.

Hine died in March 2000, at age 69. He had been suffering from a case of the flu, and was in a weakened state, due mainly to the cancer he had been battling since 1996. He was advised by his doctor not to go to the barn for a while, but being with his horses superseded all else. "He just loved his horses so much, he had to go," said his wife of 37 years, Carolyn, who owned Skip Away. Hine developed pneumonia shortly after, which was the official cause of death.

That was Sonny Hine. He and Carolyn never had a honeymoon nor did they ever take a vacation. It was all about the horses and each other. The road to success was not an easy one in the beginning. They started out with $900 to their name, living in an attic near Narragansett Park in Rhode Island. They moved about like gypsies, dragging a U-Haul from one bush track to another. At Charles Town in West Virginia, they had to sit against each other in the barn in order to keep warm, and break off icicles from the trees in order to get the horses to the paddock.

Sonny's dedication and his passion for the sport and the horses resulted in 46 stakes winners and career earnings of $28,805,820. He not only won four Eclipse Awards over a three-year period with Skip Away, including Horse of the Year in 1998, he also won Carolyn an Eclipse Award as leading owner. His other Eclipse Award winner was Guilty Conscience, champion sprinter of 1981.

What made Hine such an intriguing personality was his background with the FBI and CIA. He spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese, and working as an agent for Air Force Intelligence, once infiltrated enemy lines in Korea in order to monitor Russian and Chinese pilots who were causing damage to American facilities. He soon was ranked as one of the top 10 investigators in the world by the State Department.

This was not the Sonny Hine racetrackers came to know. He never spoke about his exploits with the FBI and CIA, because of their top-secret nature. The Sonny Hine who became such a popular and respected figure on backstretches all over the country was a warm, jovial figure who was the first to step in and help someone in need.

His eye for a horse was second to none. In 1995, he bought Skip Away as a birthday present for Carolyn for $30,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company February 2-year-olds in training sale. He returned him immediately after discovering the colt had bone chips. But he was by Skip Trial, whom Sonny had trained to win such major stakes as the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. I) twice, and Ohio Derby (gr. II). After talking it over with Carolyn, Sonny made a U-turn and headed back to the sale and negotiated the price down to $22,500. Skip Away went on to win 16 graded stakes, including the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and nine other grade Is. He retired with earnings of $9,616,360. To demonstrate the Hines' faith in Skip Away, and their willingness to give something back to the sport, they supplemented the colt to the Classic at a cost of $460,000.

Hine also captured the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Haskell Invitational with Technology, as well as major stakes with Guilty Conscience, Norquestor, Amber Pass, Bet Big, Cojak, and Dawn Quixote.

Hine was born on Jan. 9, 1931, in the Bronx, N.Y. As a youth, he and his brother Marvin rode in match races at local fairs. He saddled his first winner in 1948 at Marlboro Race Course in Maryland. He met Carolyn on a blind date in Maryland in 1961. Although they never went anywhere for their honeymoon, they remained honeymooners for 37 years. "He's been my whole life," Carolyn said. "When the rabbi said, 'You're one,' I think he truly meant it. My love for Sonny is still so strong it brings tears to my eyes. That's why I wanted this honor so badly for him."