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Monday, December 29, 2003
Longacres Mile champion living the good life
His last race might also have been his most memorable.
Anyone who witnessed the Longacres Mile in August won't soon forget it. Sky Jack, the invader from California and perhaps the greatest horse to run at Emerald Downs, appeared to be in trouble.
Sky Jack led a speed duel for three-quarters of a mile, then Poker Brad pulled up next to him.
"We were questioning what was going to happen at that point," Sky Jack's trainer, Doug O'Neill, recalled recently.
He had no reason to worry.
Sky Jack, ridden by Hall of Famer Russell Baze, put on an amazing display of speed, quickly pulled away and won by 6-¼ lengths in a track-record time of 1 minute, 33 seconds. It was the biggest margin of victory in the 68-year history of the race.
"He showed that great burst of speed that he had," O'Neill said. "It was an amazing race."
Two months later, Sky Jack was ready to return to the races in the California Cup Classic. But a couple of days before the race, there was swelling in his knee. It was the same knee that had twice before derailed his career.
"Actually, it wasn't that bad," O'Neill said. "He didn't need surgery, and we could have brought him back. But that would have been for our own selfish wants. We did what was best for the horse."
Today, Sky Jack is living a relaxed life on his owners' farm in Temecula, Calif.
"He relaxes, grazes, and occasionally people go out and bring him peppermint and carrots," O'Neill said. "He is living the good life."
Because of injury and illness, Sky Jack raced only 18 times, but earned $1,115,127. He won 10 times, including the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup in 2002. But O'Neill said his best race was the Longacres Mile.
"Having to fly to a new track, getting pressured like he did, and then winning like that, I think that was his finest race," O'Neill said. "It was a great way to end his career. He ended on his terms, and as a champion by winning a prestigious race like the Longacres Mile."
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