DEL MAR — The floppy-hat giveaway Sunday at Del Mar didn't presage a flop by the redoubtable Skimming in the $1-million Pacific Classic. Dusting off the race he won last year, Skimming won the Classic for the second time, giving his trainer, Bobby Frankel, six victories in the 11 years the stake has been run.
Skimming, a 5-year-old owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, tramples the cliche about "horses for courses." In the last two years, he has run four times, twice each in the Pacific Classic and the San Diego Handicap, and won by a combined margin of 16 1/2 lengths. Everywhere else, Skimming has four victories in 15 starts.
With Garrett Gomez aboard for the second consecutive Classic, Skimming defeated Dixie Dot Com on Sunday by 5 1/2 lengths in front of 28,072. His time for 1 1/4 miles was 1:59 4/5, two-fifths of a second slower than the stakes record but two-fifths of a second faster than his two-length victory over Tiznow last year.
"I'm a believer," said Bill Morey Jr., Dixie Dot Com's trainer. "The next time Frankel nominates a horse for a race, you'll see me heading the opposite way."
For the 10th time, the favorite folded in the Pacific Classic. Gentlemen, at 1-2 in 1997, is the only favorite to have won Del Mar's marquee race. Bettors made Futural, the disqualified first-place finisher in the Hollywood Gold Cup, the favorite Sunday by $6,000, but trainer Craig Dollase's 5-year-old gelding was never a factor and ran last in a six-horse field. Dollase later speculated that his horse had bled from the lungs, but an endoscopic exam showed that this was not the case.
"I never had any horse," said Chris McCarron, who rode Futural. "I was asking him coming by the stands the first time and there wasn't anything there. He felt OK, his legs were OK, but something had to be wrong. He just wasn't there today."
Dixie Dot Com was a head better than Dig For It, a 44-1 shot, at the wire. Captain Steve, Until Sundown and Futural completed the order of finish. Skimming, paying $5.20 to win, earned $600,000, boosting his total to $2.1 million.
"It felt like instant replay," Gomez said. "It's nice to have the real Skimming back. He felt like he did winning the San Diego Handicap [by eight lengths] last year. I couldn't have been put on a better horse. He gave 110%. On the first turn, there was another horse [Dig For It] alongside us, but my horse relaxed. In the last year, he's gotten older but wiser."
Frankel, 60, was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1995. He has been unable to win a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race, but at Del Mar he has won 51 stakes besides his six Classics. He watched Skimming's latest victory on TV from the same Saratoga racing office chair where he saw two other victories at the upstate New York track--Flute's in Saturday's Alabama and Aptitude's in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup, which was run 20 minutes before the Del Mar race.
"Todd Pletcher [another trainer] was two-for-two sitting in that chair, then he left and got beat," Frankel said. "It was just as much fun as being [at Del Mar]. I may have to talk with UPS about that chair."
Later Sunday at Del Mar, Frankel's Tates Creek won the Finlandia Cup Handicap. His horses earned more than $1.4 million in five stakes at three tracks over the weekend. Besides the two pots worth $645,855 at Del Mar, Flute earned $450,000, Aptitude banked $180,000 and The Seven Seas, second in the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park, picked up $140,000.
Frankel's mastery of the Pacific Classic began with Missionary Ridge, a 24-1 shot, in 1992. He won the next year with Bertrando, saddled Tinners Way for victories in 1994-95 and returned to the winner's circle with Skimming last year.
"I've been in the right place with the right horses at the right time," Frankel said. "Don't forget, I've never won the Santa Anita Handicap."
With Skimming setting fractions of :22 4/5, :45 4/5 and 1:10, there was only one time Gomez was given pause.
"The first quarter-mile, he was working more than was good for my comfort zone," Gomez said. "Twenty-two seconds, that was pretty fast for a mile-and-a-quarter race. But when they asked him the question at the three-eighths pole, he responded and ran them into the ground. Alex [Solis with Dig For It] came to us and my horse jumped into the bridle. My heart tripled in size."
With Golden Apples on Saturday, Gomez won the Del Mar Oaks, another Grade I race. Last week, Gomez got a close haircut at the track that left him with hardly anything on top.
"That's what I call my Skimmer do," he said.
Morey said he never felt Dixie Dot Com, who was in fifth place early, was ever going to catch Skimming.
"The idea [instead of going after Skimming early] was to give him a chance to win," said David Flores, who rode Dixie Dot Com. "He's got a good turn of foot, and he'll give it to you whenever you ask, but in a race like this, you've got to wait. I was hoping there would be more pace in the race, but what are you going to do. The winner just loves this track."
For Bruce Headley, who trains Dig For It, third place was worth $120,000. Earlier, the Headley outfit pocketed $90,000 for Kalookan Queen's head victory over Go Go, the 3-5 favorite, in the $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap.
"Dig For It shows that miracles still happen," Headley said. "We only paid $13,000 for him."