07/28/2001 11:00PM

Skimming victorious in San Diego

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DEL MAR, Calif. - As long as he is racing at Del Mar, Skimming is unbeatable. Maintaining a perfect record in three starts over this track, Skimming defended his title in Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap, beating an outstanding field in a preview of the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 19.

Skimming won the 2000 Pacific Classic, the most lucrative victory of his 18-race career, which includes seven wins and earnings of $1,586,601.

Trained by Bobby Frankel for Juddmonte Farms, Skimming won the Grade 2 San Diego with his customary frontrunning style, finishing a length in front of Futural after a stretch-long duel. Futural and Skimming were first and third, respectively, in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 1, but Futural was disqualified to third for bumping Skimming in the stretch.

There was no controversy attached to Sunday's race.

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Skimming ($6) broke from post 6, but was on the rail on the first turn. He set fractions of 23.02 and 45.98 seconds and led by as many as 3 1-2 lengths on the backstretch. Futural rallied along the rail on the backstretch to threaten Skimming on the final turn.

Futural was within a length of Skimming at the quarter-pole, but could never close the margin. The 5-year-old Skimming finished 1 1-16 miles in 1:41.62 before an ontrack crowd of 17,628.

"He gave himself a breather during the running," Gomez said. "When we turned up the backside, he was just taking it easy. Before when I asked him to go, he'd do it in a heartbeat. Now, just moved on out in his own way."

Skimming became the first repeat winner of the San Diego since Super Diamond, who won in 1985 and 1987. Native Diver won three consecutive runnings of the San Diego from 1963-65.

Captain Steve, the winner of the Dubai World Cup last March, was the 9-5 favorite and finished third, five lengths behind Futural.

Captain Steve was followed by Budroyale, Dig For It, Freedom Crest and Spicy Stuff. The San Diego Handicap was Captain Steve's third consecutive loss dating back to the Dubai win.

Trainer Craig Dollase said Futural will face Skimming in the Pacific Classic.

"I thought this distance would help Bobby's horse," Dollase said. "Our plan was to not let the other horse get too far away. I've got to get a rabbit for the next race, that's my goal."