When Carolyn and Sonny Hine come back to Baltimore, it's old home week. Carolyn grew up in Highlandtown, and her husband Sonny trained horses in Maryland for more than two decades.
Yesterday, they returned to Pimlico for the first time in a year -- with the same horse, one year older. Skip Away, runner-up in last year's Preakness, will race tomorrow in the $600,000 Pimlico Special.
Before the big gray horse was even unloaded from his trailer, Carolyn was on the telephone with friends, and horsemen stopped by the stakes barn to say hello to Sonny.
"It's always great coming back and seeing my dear friends," Carolyn said. "This is home."
But the focus, as always, was Skip Away, champion 3-year-old of 1996. As he stretched his legs in a stroll around the shedrow, Carolyn, who owns him, said in a tone of voice usually reserved for children: "Skippy, I'm sorry. You had to go by van and not by plane."
She explained that he loves to fly. But yesterday's trip was short, a ride down from Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
"Mommy loves you," Carolyn said. "Yes, she does."
She explained that she loves all her horses, but that Skippy, as she calls him, has touched her heart. Lately, he's also been trying her patience.
After winning six races as a 3-year-old, including the Jockey Club Gold Cup over Cigar, Skip Away is 0-for-3 as a 4-year-old. As the odds-on favorite each time, he finished second in the Donn Handicap and Gulfstream Park Handicap and third in the Texas Mile.
"Unbelievable," said Sonny, who trains him. "He grew so much over the winter. He sort of changed, for the better, I think. He's bigger, stronger and more willing. But it's been a little tough getting him as fit as we'd like to have him."
As Cigar retired and another New Year's passed, Skip Away was the prime candidate to replace the two-time Horse of the Year as racing's superstar. But in the Pimlico Special, its eight-horse field the deepest of any handicap race this year, Skip Away is the fourth choice in the morning line.
He is 9-2 behind Gentlemen, the 2-1 favorite, and two horses who have beaten him this year: Isitingood (3-1) and Mt. Sassafras (4-1). And, for good measure, Skip Away drew the far outside post position, No. 8 -- a reminder to the Hines of Skip Away's three horrendous post positions in last year's Triple Crown races.
Skip Away managed to finish second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. In the summer, he began dominating the 3-year-olds with victories in the Ohio Derby, Haskell, Woodbine Million and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
After his fall triumph over Cigar, the Hines agreed to pay $480,000 to supplement Skip Away to the Breeders' Cup Classic. But Sonny became ill with kidney stones, underwent two surgeries and the trip to the Breeders' Cup was canceled.
Sonny said yesterday that his various ailments of 1996 are improving; he's feeling better all the time. Now, he said, Skip Away needs to start performing at full throttle.
"We're running into some good horses here," Sonny said, mentioning specifically Isitingood and Gentlemen. "Nothing's easy. But I can also see them running into a hornet's nest in Skip Away. I've got a gut feeling he's ready."
Pub Date: 5/09/97