The day came Friday that I always knew would happen many years in the future: SKIP AWAY passed away at the age of 17.
SKIP AWAY won the 1996 Blue Grass Stakes and then went into that year’s Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites. That is when I first heard of the big grey colt with the red and yellow blinkers that made him stand out like a knight’s horse among the other bays and chestnuts. His running style was unique — an animated, high-stepping gait not unlike a carousel horse. As a 14-year-old girl fond of both knights and carousels, I was in love with Skip Away. Even though Skippy didn’t win the Derby that year, he had an even more profound impact on me than the Genesis Derby Pick, Thunder Gulch.
Where Thunder Gulch made his TV debut in the Triple Crown races, he dropped off of my six-channel radar shortly after. He didn’t run in that year’s Breeders’ Cup. He didn’t race as a 4yo. SKIP AWAY was that increasingly rare horse who raced at the top level and remained there for many years. Each time there was a race on TV, Skip Away was usually in it. And he almost always won.
My exposure to racing was confined to whatever was broadcast on network TV in those days, since Memphis is basically the Death Valley of the sport. Even though it is only 2hrs from Oaklawn, it might as well be on the moon for how much interest there is in thoroughbreds (I do believe reruns of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air beat the KY Derby in ratings). I got to know the races beyond the Triple Crown because of Skip Away. It was only when Skippy beat him that I first heard of Cigar.
The 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic was my favorite up until 2009. Skip Away simply outclassed and out ran the rest of the field, and he was FAST, too – his time of 1:59 for the 1 1/4 miles was the Classic record until 2004. I loved Skippy, his owners Sonny and Caroline Hine, and his BC jockey Mike Smith. This was also the year of Silver Charm, but even that grey Derby winner just didn’t capture me like Skip Away did. I had a Skip Away birthday cake and even named my bike after him. Breyer probably has a file of letters from me begging them to create Skippy in plastic.
Shortly after the ’97 Breeders’ Cup, I got the internet. When asked to choose a screen name for an early racing bulletin board, I went with my favorite race horse, Skip Away (+ my year of high school graduation — this has made me feel old since 2004). That bulletin board was home of many a heated argument over the 1997 Horse of the Year, which makes RA vs Z seem like a friendly disagreement.
Unlike so many top handicap horses, Skip Away remained in training after his Classic win, and his owners actually pointed him for a repeat in ’98. With my new access to racing information, I was able to find out when Skip Away was racing next, who he was facing, and by how many lengths his victory was within moments of the race! Within a day I could usually find the race replay itself (though it took ages to load on pre-YouTube dial-up sites!). It was amazingly awesome for a 14 year old, horse-crazy girl.
I also grew to love the horses Skippy left in his wake: Gentleman, Running Stag, Will’s Way, Formal Gold. I couldn’t hate Formal Gold, who beat Skippy 4 times, because I knew how hard he had to run to accomplish that feat.
When Skip Away retired at the end of 1998, I vowed to visit him some day. He stood at Hopewell Farm, not far from Three Chimneys. As many times as I visited Silver Charm, Point Given and others, I never got to Hopewell. It was the farm at the top of my list for future trips to the bluegrass. It reads, “1. Hopewell, to finally see Skip Away” followed by “2. Darley to see Street Cry” and “3. Lane’s End to see Lemon Drop Kid”.
I knew Skip Away would be there no matter when I finally got there, because his owner Caroline wouldn’t have him go anywhere else. He was only 17, so I could definitely catch him on the next trip. He had a long life ahead.
Only, it wasn’t so far in the future. Maybe. This is 2010, after all, The Future.
(and that screen name seems ancient now)
Skip Away’s complete past performances.
Steve Haskin’s Skip Away memories.
Thanks for the Memories, Skippy, and God bless you & the soul of Luke Krytbosch: