08/16/2001 12:00AM

Skimming, Futural are side by side

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Skimming and Futural, rivals whose most celebrated match came in the controversial Hollywood Gold Cup, drew post positions alongside one another when six were entered Thursday in Sunday's Grade 1 $1 million Pacific Classic, the richest race at the Del Mar meeting.

Skimming, installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite by Del Mar's linemaker, Jeff Tufts, drew post 3, just outside of Futural, who is 9-5. Until Sundown, the lone 3-year-old in the field, landed the rail. The final three stalls in the 1 1/4-mile race will be occupied by Dig for It, Dixie Dot Com, and Captain Steve.

Under the weight-for-age conditions of the race, Until Sundown gets a seven-pound weight break and carries 117 pounds. The five older horses all carry 124 pounds.

The Pacific Classic, which will go as the fifth race on a 10-race card, is the first leg of a pick six that will have a guaranteed pool of $1 million. Sunday's first race is 90 minutes earlier than usual, at 12:30 p.m Pacific time.

Futural and Skimming have faced one another in four consecutive races. Skimming has crossed the wire first in two of those races, Futural has been first across in the other two races, but their rivalry is clouded by the Gold Cup, in which Futural was disqualified from victory for bumping Skimming in the stretch run.

"The one we had taken away was pretty tough," Craig Dollase, the trainer of Futural, said Thursday morning. "But he bounced back good, and he's training really well."

Futural defeated Skimming in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 5, but that was Skimming's first start in more than six months. Skimming then led from start to finish in the Californian Stakes on June 10, beating Futural by one length.

In the July 1 Gold Cup, run at the same distance as the Pacific Classic, Futural roared past Skimming at the top of the stretch, but he ducked in, and the stewards ruled that the interference could have cost Skimming a better placing.

In their last match, Skimming led from start to finish in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego Handicap on July 29, beating Futural by one length.

"I think the distance is the key," Dollase said of the Pacific Classic. "He's proven he gets it. The others might be vulnerable.

"I hope he runs as well as he did in the Gold Cup. He's been touting us all week."

Skimming, who won last year's Pacific Classic, is unbeaten in three starts at Del Mar, and again appears to be the controlling pace in the Pacific Classic. Dollase said he is hopeful that Dixie Dot Com can apply enough pressure early to keep Skimming from getting an easy lead.

Go to Del Mar coverage.