Skip Trial celebrated his homecoming with an easy victory in the $166,800 John B. Campbell Handicap at Pimlico Race Course today.
The Maryland-based colt, who runs in the colors of Zelda Cohen, the wife of Pimlico owner Ben Cohen, had been facing and beating some of the best horses in America since his last appearance in this state. For his return, he got a homecoming present in the form of a 122-pound weight assignment from racing secretary Larry Abbundi, whose generosity was apparent to the crowd of 14,114.
They recognized Skip Trial's superiority and sent him to the post as a 1-to-2 favorite. He gave his supporters little reason for concern, as he swept to a two-length victory over Regal Count, with Majestic Solo third.
Skip Trial got a flawless ride from Jean-Luc Samyn, who bided his time even after the local speedball, Rocket Guitar, sped to an early six-length lead. Little Bold John, Sparrowvon and Regal Count all were clustered together stalking him, while Skip Trial sat a few lengths farther back, with nobody in his vicinity.
As the field reached the turn, the chasers all caught Rocket Guitar (who finished a distant last), but Skip Trial had them measured as he swung to the outside. Samyn wasn't worried about saving ground on the rail-favoring Pimlico track. "I stayed wide to stay out of trouble," he said.
Regal Count took a brief lead as he turned into the stretch, but Skip Trial caught him a furlong from the finish and drew away to a comfortable victory. He covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03 1/5, missing the track record by one-fifth of a second at a distance rarely run at Pimlico, and paid $3.
Until last summer, Skip Trial had looked like a fair-to-middling runner, the type who would be a solid Maryland stakes horse like the rivals he was facing today.
But he showed he had exceptional talent when he trounced Spend a Buck, the eventual horse of the year, in the Haskell Handicap at Monmouth Park. Since then he has displayed consistent excellence in top stakes company.
He captured three different Grade II stakes last fall, and then started his 4-year-old campaign impressively. In the Gulfstream Park Handicap Feb. 22 last month, he scored a nose victory over Proud Truth that increased his career earnings to more than $1 million.
Ordinarily, trainer Sonny Hine wouldn't have bothered with a race like the Campbell, but the Cohens wanted to run him at their home track. Hine said after the race that he thought Skip Trial hadn't cared much for the Pimlico surface, but that didn't matter much.
"He wasn't handling the track at all," Hine said. "He looked like he was floundering the first time by, but he's trained to run through the stretch and he showed his class at the end."