01/06/2011 6:47PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Slip Away

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Barbara D. Livingston

Back in 2000, Flat Top won the Royal Chase steeplechase stakes at Keeneland.

Ken Ramsey was the happiest guy in the place, smiling broadly, slapping backs and jumping into the winner’s circle photo.
Even though he wasn’t the horse’s owner or breeder.

Ramsey raced Flat Top on the flat and sold him – cheap ­– as a steeplechase prospect. The horse went on to win two Eclipse Awards and earn just short of $600,000.

“I’m not about to let that happen again,” Ramsey used to say as he explained his steeplechase forays, which started in 2003.

Now, the red-and-white silks of Roses in May, Kitten’s Joy, and other flat-racing stars routinely go jumping. Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, vaulted to the top of the sport with 2010 Eclipse Award finalist Slip Away. The gray, bred in Kentucky by Glencrest Farm and partners, won twice in seven starts, led the seasonal earnings list with $191,500, and put an exclamation point on the year with a lopsided triumph in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup on the season’s final day, Nov. 13.

“I like steeplechasing, I just haven’t been exposed to it very much,” Ramsey said. “The horses have to be pretty good to do that, and there’s no telling where Slip Away would have ended up without steeplechasing. He turned out to be a good horse because we did it.”

Trained by Tom Voss, Slip Away started 2010 in the Grade 3 Temple Gwathmey in April,­ running away to a nine-length tally while leading at every step and jumping awkwardly. The rapid and rank victory did little to signal championship intentions.

The losses did that. Paired with champion jockey Paddy Young the rest of the season, Slip Away relaxed early, jumped fluidly, and saved something for the finish of his races. He stayed around to claim second to Tax Ruling in the 3-mile, Grade 1 Iroquois in May, narrowly lost Saratoga’s A.P. Smithwick after setting the pace, dropped another close decision to Arcadius in the Helen Haskell Sampson at Monmouth Park, and finished the best of the Americans when second in the Grade 1 Grand National at Far Hills in October.

Winless in five starts together, Young and Slip Away looked like Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne in the Colonial Cup. The 2 3/4-mile, 17-fence test, routinely decides championships, and Slip Away took over from Preemptive Strike at the two-mile mark and ran off to score by 25 3/4 lengths. In his wake came Grand National winner Percussionist, Iroquois winner Tax Ruling, 2009 champion Mixed Up, and Preemptive Strike.

Young credited Slip Away’s heart with the Colonial Cup victory but was relieved to finally break through after going winless in their first five races together.

“Every time I get off him I know there’s nothing left, it’s all out there on the course, he gives his all,” the jockey said. “We had a connection. He ran great for me, but we couldn’t win and it was hard.

“As much as I’m delighted to win, I’m just so happy for that horse. If ever a horse deserves it, it’s him.”

Voss called his horse a “throwback,” and Slip Away lived up to it ­– racing all year, showing his versatility, and delivering his best race when needed.
Slip Away avenged his May defeat to Tax Ruling, hammered Danish invader Percussionist in the Colonial Cup rematch, and finished in front of Arcadius in their only meeting at equal weights.

“Different courses, different horses. He beat everybody that beat him. He had a great year,” Voss said.

Ramsey spent $16,000 to purchase the yearling Slip Away at Keeneland January 2004. The gray son of Skip Away spent time with Dale Romans and Ronny Werner in a futile attempt to make a flat horse. In May 2006, the unraced Slip Away returned to Ramsey Farm with a bruised splint bone and little future.

Two months later, he went to Voss’s Maryland farm, learned to jump, and started on the path to a championship. He lost his first three starts, missed almost a year with a tendon injury, won five times in 2008, became a stakes winner in 2009.

And made Flat Top proud in 2010.