Skelly Rockets in Count Fleet

April 13, 2024

Skelly. (Coady Photo/Erin Johnson)

By Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Jet lag? Maybe just an instant.

The freakishly fast Skelly, after breaking third, rocketed to the front under regular rider Ricardo Santana Jr. and never looked back in Saturday’s six-furlong $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses. 

Making his first start since his winning streak was snapped during a February trek to the Middle East, heavily favored Skelly finished three lengths clear of late-running millionaire Tejano Twist. It was another 1 ½ lengths farther back to third-place finisher Happy Is a Choice, who chased Skelly through blistering splits of :21.52 for a quarter-mile and :43.88 for a half-mile. Happy Is a Choice was followed, in order, by Ryvit, Jaxon Traveler, Perfect Dude and I’m Wide Awake. Code Five was a late scratch.

Skelly (3-5) covered six furlongs over a fast track in a meet-best 1:08.82. He packed top weight of 125 pounds. 

Skelly ($3.40) also won the 2023 Count Fleet, which marked his third consecutive victory. Skelly stretched the winning streak to seven in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Feb. 3 at Oaklawn. It ended with a runner-up finish in the $1.5 million G3-Riyadh Dirt Sprint over 1,200 meters Feb. 24 in Saudi Arabia.

Skelly represented the record-extending seventh Count Fleet victory for Santana and the record-extending sixth for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. 

A 5-year-old gelded son of Practical Joke, Skelly has a 9-4-0 record from 14 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,460,163. Skelly is a five-time stakes winner. He also won the $150,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes for older horses last May at Oaklawn.

Skelly races for Chris Hicks (Red Lane Thoroughbreds LLC), who purchased the gelding for $250,000 at the 2020 Fasig Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase sale.

Racing resumes with a nine-race card Sunday beginning at 12:30 p.m. (CDT).

Winning Jockey (Ricardo Santana Jr./Skelly): “Actually, I was really worried about that (breaking slowly) because I’m a human. I took the plane over there (Middle East) and I came back and slept for a whole week. That’s a long way to go for a horse. I saw the horse Thursday. He went to the gate. He looked good. You can still see how good he is, coming from Saudi. He went :21, :43, :56, 1:08. Such a nice horse.”

Winning Trainer (Steve Asmussen/Skelly): “(A half-mile) in :43 4/5, my heart was beating, but then goes (1:08 4/5). What a special horse. So happy to have him back here at Oaklawn. He loves it as much as we do – in the winner’s circle where he belongs.”

Second-Place Jockey (Cristian Torres/Tejano Twist): “He ran the race that we wanted. I know they were rolling in front. For this kind of pace, he has the right running style. It’s perfect. Just let him do his thing at the beginning. When I asked him, he responded pretty well. He was closing. Skelly’s too fast. Nobody can go with him. I think he went in like :43 (for a half-mile). Right now, there’s no other horse that can go that fast. But we’re really happy with our horse’s effort.”

Third-Place Trainer (John Ortiz/Happy Is A Choice): “You get a good effort and a horse that comes back sound, it’s a win. It’s always a win. Today was the day I thought we could beat Skelly. He’s a monster. Congratulations to all of them. He’s a great horse. Our horse is only getting better. He’s just started improving. It’s the first time we actually had the horse run through the whole race. He’s had it easy the last couple of races. You move forward from here.”

Good stuff buddy! RT @jonathanstettin: Racing’s not Dead.

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