10/06/2001 12:00AM

King of Del Mar still has a lot to prove


ARCADIA, Calif. - At Del Mar, he is the king. And it's good to be the king, especially when the meet's biggest race is worth $1 million. But now summer is turning to fall, and Skimming has to venture from his castle. He is seeking to conquer new lands, and erase the widely held perception that he is a one-track wonder.

When he runs in Sunday's $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita, Skimming will be attempting to win Oak Tree's biggest race for older horses, knock off Tiznow - who won the race last year en route to being named Horse of the Year - and earn a ticket to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park.

If this race were at Del Mar, Skimming almost without doubt would be the favorite. He has won four races there in four starts, including the last two runnings of the Pacific Classic. Yet away from Del Mar, he is a mere 4 for 15. And last fall, he ended the year ingloriously, beating a grand total of one horse in two starts after he left Del Mar and headed to Belmont Park.

This year, he is remaining in California for his first post-Del Mar outing. That is one of several reasons why his trainer, Bobby Frankel, believes Skimming will fare better this fall.

"I think that of all the other tracks, Santa Anita's surface is the closest to Del Mar's," Frankel said.

Even though Skimming's late-season campaign last year was disastrous, Frankel said he learned a great deal about the horse. Skimming finished fourth of five in the Woodward Stakes, then was seventh and last, beaten by 37 lengths, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, both at Belmont Park.

"Soundness, and a loose track," Frankel said, citing reasons why Skimming tailed off in New York. "I think one contributed to the other. He had a knee that started to bother him." Frankel gave Skimming time to recover, and vowed to avoid cuppy tracks this year.

Skimming never has won beyond 1 1/8 miles outside of Del Mar, which makes the 1 1/4-mile Classic at Belmont seem an odd fit. It was suggested to Frankel that the Goodwood, while a prep for Tiznow, was more of a focal point for Skimming. He scoffed at the theory.

"We're all going for the money," he said. "Anybody who tells you they're prepping in a $500,000 race is full of it."

For Skimming to go to the Breeders' Cup Classic, though, "he'll probably have to win," Frankel said. And if Skimming goes, Frankel said he will not send Skimming until the last possible moment. "I don't want to train him there," Frankel said. "And I wouldn't mind if the track came up a little wet, so that it's not so loose."

Skimming, who was bred and is owned by the Juddmonte Farms of Prince Khalid Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, has been one of Frankel's greatest reclamation projects. Though well-bred, Skimming arrived here winless after beginning his career in Europe. The 5-year-old horse is by Nureyev, meaning he should prefer the turf, yet Frankel has carved out a career for Skimming on the dirt, where his natural speed is more effective.

Why the turnaround?

"He was bleeding over there," Frankel said of Skimming, who is treated with bleeder medication. "And maybe he just likes California food.

"He likes the dirt, too," Frankel added. "I don't know how he'd run on grass here. I've never run him on grass. It's hard to switch when he's doing so well."

Skimming also has benefited from Frankel's strategy to point for a late-season campaign. After his poor performances in New York, Skimming did not race for nearly seven months.

"I planned that with a lot of my horses," Frankel said. "All the big money and big races are at the end of the year, so why kill them early?"

Especially when you have a horse as amenable as Skimming.

"He's a really cool horse," Frankel said. "He's easy to train, he's good in the paddock. He does everything perfect. He's what you would call a professional racehorse."