06/30/2001 11:00PM

Aptitude first in Gold Cup

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Futural's reign as the Hollywood Gold Cup winner lasted nine minutes on Sunday, the time it took Hollywood Park stewards to disqualify him from first to third for a bumping incident in early stretch. Stewards Peter Pedersen, George Slender and Tom Ward ruled that Futural interfered with Skimming outside the eighth pole, an incident that they ruled cost Skimming a placing. The decision resulted in the promotion of Aptitude from second to first, giving the 2000 Kentucky Derby runnerup his first stakes win.

The bumping incident came at a time when Captain Steve, Skimming and Futural were racing together, with Aptitude in fourth.

Futural, who was ridden by Chris McCarron, pulled clear in the final furlong and won by 1 1-2 lengths, running 1 1-4 miles in 2:01.79.

"I thought they'd leave the number up," said McCarron, who has not won the Gold Cup in 19 attempts. "I didn't think it had any bearing on the outcome. I haven't delved into the movies. I didn't think it was my fault."

Aptitude, who was not bothered by the bumping incident, closed on the outside to finish second, three lengths in front of Skimming, who was followed by Captain Steve and the hopelessly beaten Power Wing.

The change in the order of finish gave owner Juddmonte Farms and trainer Bobby Frankel a 1-2 finish. The decision gave Frankel his first Gold Cup win since Marquetry won in 1991.

"It's the game, it happens," Frankel said. "The horse took a hard bump. I'm not saying he would have beaten him, but he took a hard bump."

Aptitude was ridden by Laffit Pincay, Jr., who had the 4-year-old in last on the backstretch, well behind Power Wing and Skimming who set fractions of 23.35 and 46.78 seconds. At that point, Frankel was discouraged that jockey Garrett Gomez did not have Skimming in front.

"I wanted Garrett to go," Frankel said. "I wanted him to put that horse away. He did help me win because he was in a position to get a good bump. He was in the right spot turning for home."

Skimming took over at the half-mile pole, but was quickly challenged by Captain Steve, the 7-10 favorite, who closed along the rail. On the final turn, Futural rallied three-wide to join the leaders. Pincay kept Aptitude in the clear and thought he would catch Skimming in the stretch.

"I had my horse on the outside and I saw Chris drop in," Pincay said. "I still thought I'd win, but (Futural) pulled away from me. The second and third time I saw it, it looked like a hard bump. I thought they'd take him down.

"I'll take it. I've been in Chris's spot many times."

After the decision was announced, Craig Dollase, Futural's trainer, ducked into the film room near the winner's circle for a moment alone before going back to the box seat area.

"It cost the other horse the placing, but I thought he was a tired horse," Dollase said of Skimming.

"We won so easily, too. All that preperation and this happens. But he was so just impressive. You can't really blame anyone, you have to accept it."