Dr. Skip punches ticket to Saratoga…

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All Eddie Graham wanted to do was go to the beach – eat cotton candy and caramel corn, take a walk on the boardwalk, maybe spin in the teacups at Funland, try to win a stuffed animal or two for his kids. Then a writer calls him up about an undefeated hurdler and asks the most popular question in racing this time of year.

“Going to Saratoga?”

Graham talked about it, ruminated over it, pondered it. Then stopped.

“Now, you’ve got me nervous at the beach,” Graham said, with a laugh.

Graham had escaped to Dewey Beach for a few days, fresh with $1,800 spending money from Dr. Skip’s dominant win at Parx June 25. Owned by Charley and Susan Strimatter’s Clorevia Farm, the 5-year-old son of Eddington improved his jump record to 2-for-2 with an easy score in the optional claimer. Under veteran Jody Petty, Dr. Skip relaxed in fifth, well off a frenetic pace set by Pleasant Woodman and stoked by Saint Dynaformer and Top Man Michael. Leaving the backside the final time, Dr. Skip shuffled back farther. Petty allowed the chestnut gelding to take a deep breath, then asked. It was over quick. The Maryland-bred accelerated past horses, collared Bodie Island and Staying On as the field went inside the waved-around last hurdle (The Price Of Love had fallen at the fence the first time around but was fine) and drew off to win by 7 lengths. Staying On stayed on for second while Absolum and Fantastic Song rallied as a pair to finish third and fourth (both youngsters ran well and staked claims for Saratoga).

Ah, back to Saratoga.

“We’ll see,” Graham said. “I thought he would be green, we ran him to get experience, then were thinking we’d put him away, that’s how we used to do it back in the day. Jody said, ‘if he happened to win you’d have to think about Saratoga.’ “

Conservative by nature, Graham learned at the old school. Pressuring young horses was not part of the curriculum at Bruce Miller University. Still, Dr. Skip has shown he can handle it, setting a course record in just his second sanctioned start. At Saratoga, Dr. Skip will need to step into the novice condition, against the likes of Black Quartz, Alajmal and Sacred Soul.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t think he would be experienced enough to win here,” Graham said of the Parx race. “I was surprised, of course I’m always surprised.”

Dr. Skip ran well on the flat for trainer Leigh Delacour, consistently stringing together Beyer Speed figures in the high 70s and low 80s. Good enough for jumping.

“I told Jody to get over there and ask if Leigh had any horses for sale, they said they had one that nobody really showed any interest in, Jody went over there and liked him,” Graham said. “Rusty (Carrier) liked him, I liked him a lot, he looked like he had a lot of heart and he was consistent on the flat, even if it was claiming 20, he was consistent. Mr. Strittmatter always said if I found something to keep him in mind. It was a year afterwards, he bought him and he’s turned out. He keeps stepping up, it’s nice to have a horse like him if he keeps going the way he’s going.”

Graham, who trains at Emery and Josh Taylor’s Hoodwink in Unionville, did most of the work himself.

“He’s always done everything you’ve asked him to do, going cross country, jogging on the roads,” Graham said. “Jody was in Florida and Paddy (Young) was real busy so I did all the schooling in the indoor at Mary Hazzard’s, after 11 years of not doing it. Then I went over and jumped the baby hurdle at Bruce Miller’s, I hadn’t done one of them, nobody around, he was awesome. I told Jody he’s ready for you. He’s just classy, gets everything done.”

In other action, Brazilian-bred 9-year-old Mr.Universo tracked another frenetic pace in the first division of the maiden before drawing off to win by a comfortable 2 lengths for jockey Paddy Young and trainer Leslie Young. The Youngs added blinkers to the house horse, who had finished fourth at Iroquois in his most recent start, 12 lengths behind upset winner Labonte. Young Bohemian erased a dismal effort at Colonial Downs to finish second again (he was second at Nashville) and flat stakes horse Canaveral ran well to finish third. Favorite Top Striker pulled up and third choice Share Out fell at the last hurdle.

Mr.Universo won three races on the flat while with trainers Ken McPeek and Paulo Lobo. The son of Roi Normand ran hard against tough turf horses, finishing just behind Doctor Peach, Simmard and future jumpers En Fuego and Sporty. He missed a year of action from a Gulfstream allowance to the maiden at Nashville in 2012. He finished third in his jump debut and took another year off, returning at Nashville this spring.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s dominant reign spanned into steeplechasing Tuesday when Network News wired nine rivals in the second division of the maiden. Apprentice Gus Dahl, who is working for Tom Voss this summer, put the 4-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy on the lead and the decision was never in doubt. Network News, making his second start over hurdles, drew off to win by nearly 5 lengths over favorite Jamarjo and other stablemate Giacometti who closed from the back to be third under new import Sean McDermott.

networknewsNetwork News made seven starts on the flat for trainer Mike Maker, winning a maiden claimer at Turfway Park back in January, 2012. Given nearly a year off after finishing sixth at Ellis Park, he returned as a jumper, finishing fourth at Radnor, seven lengths behind Dr. Skip. Saratoga beckons.


PHOTOS: Mr. Universo (above photo) and Network News (2, right photo) won maiden hurdle races at Parx Tuesday. Bill Denverl/EQUI-PHOTO