Published in the Aug. 4 issue of The Blood-Horse
The house horse is back--and he's hotter than ever. When it comes to Skimming, Del Mar is an open-and-shut case. They break. He goes. He goes faster. No one catches him. The son of Nureyev racked up his second straight win of the $250,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) on July 29--a feat, for your information, not seen since Native Diver owned the race from 1963-65. The Juddmonte Farms homebred may very well be channeling the spirit of the legend himself, flying along early and daring anyone to keep up. His tense, one-length decision over Futural, however, was a far cry from his daylight blowout of a year ago. "It was a little different field last year, too," reminded jockey Garrett Gomez, the man who feels the sizzle in the saddle. "Last year there wasn't much in there. That was the Pacific Classic today." Few would argue with Gomez' assessment, at least as far as depth of field was concerned. By far the most contentious installment in recent memory, the 1 1/16-mile San Diego brought out what many considered the finest field of older horses California has seen all year. The memory of Skimming's one-way dominance of a year ago seemed fresh in everyone's mind. Captain Steve's plunder of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) still spoke volumes, while the performance--not the disqualification--of Futural in last month's Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) made a lasting impression as well. Freedom Crest, the reformed claimer, was looking like a million bucks and training even better for trainer Richard Baltas. Dig for It and Spicy Stuff gave the heavyweights something to ponder. The San Diego also marked the return of fan favorite Budroyale, the reliable gelding who hadn't seen action in over 14 months. He had been training like never before, though owner Jeffrey Sengara and trainer Ted H. West both knew it would be a steep way to send their 8-year-old warrior back into battle. "Realistically, I'd just like to see him run a good race and show that he's the horse he was before," West said the day before the race. "It's a tough spot to make a comeback. Other than Tiznow, it's the best we have to offer on the West Coast." Skimming simply made a meal out of them all. As the field stampeded from the gate, Gomez and Skimming quickly took over, angling to the rail ahead of Freedom Crest and Budroyale. The opener was a gentle :23.02. "Up the backstretch, he got a breather," Gomez said. "And by the time I got to the turn, I thought somebody would be breathing down his neck." Nobody was, mainly because Gomez and Skimming had thrown down a second quarter of :22.96, shedding their closest pursuers in the process. The only one making any considerable progress was rival Futural, who had been steadily moving along the rail, reaching third as Skimming sped away alone. From his vantage point atop Futural, Chris McCarron could see Skimming--five lengths up ahead--chugging along smoothly. He decided to take aim, giving Futural the signal to go leaving the backstretch. "And he picked it up very willingly," McCarron acknowledged. "Skimming just didn't stop. I just couldn't catch him." It was the same old story. Futural at least gave it a first-rate try. As Skimming pushed on past the three-quarter mark in 1:10.20, the son of Future Storm moved in, looking like he meant business. He got about as close as Skimming's tail. Skimming, much to Gomez' dismay, delayed his kick just long enough to feel Futural's challenge. "That's what he did in the Californian," Gomez admitted. "He sat there and waited on 'em. This horse has actually gotten a lot older and wiser. Last year when I asked him, he opened up and took off. He's learned to try to control himself." They finished in a race of their own, crossing the tape a length apart in 1:41.62. Another five lengths away in third was Captain Steve, at this point a mere shadow of the horse who looked so dominant earlier this year. Three races in six weeks--on top of the journey to Dubai--may have finally taken their toll. "He was just flat, no enthusiasm," rued jockey Gary Stevens. "He kind of just galloped around there." Skimming, on the other hand, is just coming back to the form that saw him parlay last year's San Diego into a daring run in the Pacific Classic (gr. I). "He does his best running here," trainer Bobby Frankel said in the understatement of the summer. "He's becoming a real professional. He knows he's a good horse." But Futural is not far behind. The two have staged a mano-a-mano battle this summer, trading blows in Hollywood's Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and Californian Stakes (gr. II) before the Gold Cup left them both looking for someone to smack. Futural's trainer, Craig Dollase, acknowledged the San Diego might have played into Skimming's hands, and though he and McCarron both feel longer distances will give their consistent gelding more of an edge, Dollase kidded about taking a different approach between now and the Aug. 19 Pacific Classic. "I gotta get a rabbit," he laughed. "That's my goal for the next race--look for a rabbit to soften up Skimming." At Del Mar, however, even that may not work. (Chart, Equibase)Continued . . .