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
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,
“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
“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.