Skip Away won his ninth straight race and virtually locked up Horse of the Year honors Saturday, leading throughout the stretch to the roar of 20,237 fans for a 1 3/4 -length victory over Gentlemen in the $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.
The 5-year-old gray colt has two races left in his career, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Oct. 10 and the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
With $300,000 from the Woodward, Skip Away's bankroll was boosted to $9,506,360. He is within striking distance of Cigar ($9,999,815) as the career money leader in North America.
Running Stag, the European horse who was the longest shot in the field at 49-1, was another six lengths back in third, followed by Free House, another nine lengths back, and 3-year-old Coronado's Quest, who had his five-race win streak snapped.
"He did the running and Jerry (Bailey) did the steering," trainer Sonny Hine said. "I wasn't worried."
"That was a lot of fun, and was a very fast time on a slow race track," Bailey said of Skip Away's time of 1:47 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles.
It was as competitive a field as the Woodward has seen since the 1967 edition, in which Damascus beat Buckpasser and Dr. Fager, but Skip Away was in command throughout.
Breaking a step slow under Bailey, Skip Away quickly moved up and shook off an early challenge from Coronado's Quest to take command with five furlongs to go and pull off to a clear lead.
With Gentlemen rallying from fourth to gamely chase him through the stretch, Skip Away was kept to task by Bailey and was never really threatened.
The even-money favorite, Skip Away returned $4.20, $2.90 and $2.10 as he extended his 1998 record to 7 for 7. Gentlemen, who turned in the best effort of his 6-year-old campaign, returned $4.40 and $3.20 while Running Stag paid $3.20 for show.
Jug draws field of 23
DELAWARE, Ohio -- Shady Character, Browning Blue Chip and Artscape were made the 3-2 favorites in the three divisions of the Little Brown Jug -- the second leg of the triple crown for 3-year-old pacers.
Post positions for the race, to be run Thursday at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, were drawn Saturday. A purse of $566,630 helped attract a field of 23.
Shady Character, winner of the Cane Pace, the first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown Sept. 5, is the favorite in the first division.
Browning Blue Chip, winner of the Little Brown Jug Preview at Scioto Downs Sept. 12, is the favorite in the second division.
Artscape, the favorite in the third division, is on a three-race winning streak, with his most recent victory in the Sept. 12 Simcoe Stake at Woodbine in Toronto.