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SKIMMING SURFACE COLT, GOMEZ ON WAY AFTER CLASSIC WIN.

Byline: Rich Hammond Staff Writer

DEL MAR - General Challenge had the star power and Tiznow had the trendy support going into Saturday's 10th Pacific Classic, but Skimming had the most important factor of all on his side. He had trainer Bobby Frankel.

Frankel won the $1 million Pacific Classic, Del Mar's premier event, for the fifth time as Skimming - the third choice of bettors - led from gate to wire under Garret Gomez, who scored the biggest win of his career.

``Let's just start calling this race the Pacific Frankel Classic,'' said jockey Kent Desormeaux, who finished third aboard Ecton Park, behind Tiznow and a half-length ahead of even-money favorite General Challenge.

``I'll give him my first call for the race next year right now. Who's he running? I want to ride him.''

Frankel previously won the Pacific Classic with Missionary Ridge (1992), Bertrando (1993) and Tinners Way (1994, 1995), but the trainer can take extra pride in Skimming, a major reclamation project from Europe.

Skimming began his career in France in the fall of 1998, but struggled on turf and lost his first four races. Juddmonte Farms, which owns Skimming, put him under Frankel's care in California. There, the colt was able to use the bleeder medication Lasix, which is banned overseas.

Skimming became a Pacific Classic contender with wins in three of his first five races under Frankel, including an eight-length victory in the San Diego Handicap on Aug. 6. But Frankel faced questions as to whether the colt's early speed could hold up over 1 1/4 miles.

As expected, Skimming set the pace with good position at the rail, but longshot Forty One Carats and second choice Tiznow stayed right with him, never more than a length behind over the first mile.

Skimming took control at the top of the stretch and held off late runs from Tiznow and Ecton Park for a two-length victory, Frankel's seventh stakes win of the meeting.

``I think he has demonstrated that he is one of the best trainers in the world,'' said Prince Ahmad Abdullah, son of Juddmonte owner Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

``We had basically written (Skimming) off, but not totally. Bobby did a good job of making him as good as you saw.''

Frankel and Gomez didn't shy away from using Skimming's speed. In fact, they challenged the other horses to keep up on a track that tends to favor speed to begin with.

``I like to see (other horses) struggling to keep up with you,'' Frankel said, ``and then when you turn for home, they're struggling just like you are. (Skimming) ran a great race. I love the little guy.''

The only thing that seemed to surprise Frankel was that bettors didn't think more of Skimming, who went off at 9-2 despite his impressive recent credentials. General Challenge received much of the prerace attention, as the Bob Baffert-trained gelding attempted to repeat his victory in last year's Pacific Classic.

General Challenge went off as the favorite, with Laffit Pincay a late replacement for regular rider Corey Nakatani, who suffered a hairline fracture of his left collarbone two races before the Pacific Classic.

Pincay kept the gelding in good position for much of the race and seemed poised to make a move at the top of the stretch, but the run never came. General Challenge has now lost three consecutive races, all as the post- time favorite.

``I didn't really pay attention to what (Pincay) was doing, because they were all behind me,'' Gomez said.

Winning the Pacific Classic is old hat to Frankel, but it was Gomez's first stakes victory. Gomez got the ride for the first time at the San Diego Handicap, when previous riders Alex Solis and Victor Espinoza were unavailable.

Gomez is not likely to give up on Skimming anytime soon, as the horse will now likely be pointed toward the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

``(Skimming) answered every question,'' Gomez said. ``There was a matter of the distance, but he answered that one. I never hit him, not once.

``I don't know what would have happened if a horse had come to him late and I had to hit him, but he might have had another gear yet. He was trying, all the way. This is the biggest win of my career, no doubt about it.''

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Garret Gomez, aboard Skimming, won the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Saturday.

(2) Garrett Gomez, right, raises his crop as Skimming wins his fourth of six races under trainer Bobby Frankel.

(3) Jockey Garrett Gomez, center, and trainer Robert Frankel, right, hold trophies after Skimming's victory Saturday. At left is Del Mar Thoroughbred Cup president Joe Harper.

Denis Poroy/Associated Press

Box: PACIFIC CLASSIC RESULTS
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 27, 2000
Words:807
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