Skip Away was not going to let a couple of hangnails stop him from winning his seventh consecutive race and keeping his reputation as America's top-rated horse.
The gray horse won the $1 million Hollywood Gold Cup on Sunday despite having plastic patches around his feet to hold his shoes on."This horse is a gamer," trainer Sonny Hine said. "I've been saying all along that this is one of the greatest horses I've ever seen."
Skip Away held on for a 13/4-length victory over Puerto Madero, covering 11/4 miles in 2 minutes. Gentlemen, who hadn't raced since a last-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap on March 7, came close to taking the lead on the final turn but wound up a length back in third.
"I didn't think Gentlemen could beat us, so I really wasn't scared," jockey Jerry Bailey said of Skip Away. "I just pulled the trigger and let him go."
Richard Mandella, trainer for both Gentlemen and Puerto Madero, acknowledged that the long layoff might have cost Gentlemen the victory.
"Gentleman may have gotten a little tired the last eighth of a mile," Mandella said. "Maybe he didn't get tired - maybe he just got outrun. But I'm going to have to hope he just got a little tired."
There was a time when things weren't looking so good for Skip Away.
Ten days ago, he got loose for 30 minutes during his morning workout at Belmont Park. He slightly injured his feet, requiring some fine-tuning by his blacksmith to correct a hangnail type condition.
Before the horse was shipped from New York on Thursday, he nearly got away from an outrider during another workout.
With Skip Away comfortably out in front, Puerto Madero charged along the rail and passed Gentlemen, his stablemate, in the final strides.
"He ran a very threatening race to Skip Away, which is not shameful at all," said Kent Desormeaux, who was aboard Puerto Madero. "We settled back there and made a big, big run through the lane."
Skip Away paid $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10 as the 2-5 wagering favorite, while the Mandella-trained entry of Puerto Madero and Gentlemen returned $2.20 and $2.10 as the 9-5 second choice.
Bailey quickly settled Skip Away on the lead into the first turn, dictated the pace the rest of the way.
Bailey figured something was up when Skip Away easily took the lead.
"I knew it was a setup and that Richard's other horse (Puerto Madero) was going to come at me," he said. "I thought Skip Away was good enough to take what Gentlemen had and put him away and still hold on. He proved me right."
The victory, worth $600,000, bumped Skip Away's career earnings to $8.90 million - $1 million short of Cigar's record. Hine wants Skip Away to reach $10 million before he calls it quits.
Skip Away hasn't lost since last September, when he was second to Formal Gold in the Woodward at Belmont. His seven-race streak includes the Breeders' Cup Classic last November at Hollywood Park.
Even Mandella conceded Skip Away is the best horse in the world.
"I hope we can change that as the year goes on, but he sure is at this point," he said. Mandella's streak of winning $1 million races in California ended at six.
His wins included consecutive victories in the Gold Cup, in 1996 with Siphon and last year with Gentlemen.