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Hop Skip and Away Cruises in Reilly

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In a move that surprised even his trainer, Hop Skip and Away took command early in Saturday’s $60,000 John J. Reilly Handicap at Monmouth Park and never looked back, cruising to a 2 ¾ length score.

“When I saw him on the lead, I was screaming ‘what are you doing’,” said conditioner Joe Pierce Jr., who owns Hop Skip and Away in partnership with H.C.B. Lindh.  “I told Pedro (jockey Cotto) in the paddock to use his judgment, but I didn’t expect that.  Pedro’s judgment sure worked out, though.

“Obviously I’m surprised by the way he won, but not that he won.  Pedro’s riding as good as he’s ever ridden and when you have confidence like he does right now things just go your way.”

In 56 previous lifetime starts, the 8-year-old Hop Skip and Away had never been in front through the first quarter of a mile.  The traditional closer, who prior to Saturday won all nine of his races coming from the off pace, was first to the quarter in :22 1/5 and then the half in :44 3/5.  He reported home in 1:09 4/5 for six furlongs over a fast main track under 116 pounds.

“I didn’t want to be so far back,” said the winning jockey.  “I didn’t expect to be on the lead, though.  Once we were in front I tried to slow it down as much as possible.  In the stretch, he just pulled away.”

A gelding by Gold Fever from the Gulch mare Wingspread, Hop Skip and Away returned $21, $9.80 and $5.60.  Chief Carlson completed the $215 exacta and paid $13.60 and $6.80.  It was another length and a half back to Bombast, who paid $3.80 to show.

Saturday’s Reilly was Hop Skip and Away’s fourth try in the sprint staple for New Jersey-bred colts and geldings.  He ran third in 2010 and 2011 before a runner-up finish last year.







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