08/18/2003 11:00PM

Sky Jack the heavy in many ways


AUBURN, Wash. - Sky Jack, the highweight and certain favorite for Sunday's Grade 3 Longacres Mile, is an imposing individual.

He was facing the rear of his stall on Monday morning, shortly after he arrived at Emerald from Los Angeles, and his hind end seemed to block out the entire entranceway.

"He's a big guy," trainer Doug O'Neill said. "And he has that classic Thoroughbred hind end. It's not square like a Quarter Horse. It's more like an A-frame, but it's deep and powerful."

That deep and powerful hind end has pushed Sky Jack to nine victories in 17 starts, including a win in last year's Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. All of his starts have been in Southern California, so O'Neill was anxious about how he would ship to the Northwest. By the time O'Neill was reached at Del Mar, however, Sky Jack had arrived in fine shape at the barn of trainer Terry Gillihan.

"I have never really shipped him anywhere, and that was by design," O'Neill said. "He can get rattled even when we move him from track to track in Southern California, so I was a little worried. I understand he handled everything just fine, though, and that was a big relief. I guess maybe he is mellowing a little with age."

The ship was one of O'Neill's concerns, and another is how Sky Jack will handle the Emerald surface. Sky Jack is known to be choosy about his racing surfaces. He adores Hollywood, where he has won 7 of 9 starts, but apparently dislikes Del Mar, where he is 0 for 3.

Sky Jack almost always races on the lead, but O'Neill did not seem concerned about rivals with speed.

"He's more versatile than it might look on paper," O'Neill said. "It's just that he is so gifted with natural speed that he usually ends up on the lead. We'll be going for the lead again in the Mile, but if somebody else wants to act like a Quarter Horse I'm confident he'll be happy sitting behind them. He might not have done that when he was younger, but he'll do it now."

Though 7, Sky Jack is showing few signs of age. He is coming off an allowance victory on July 5 at Hollywood in which he completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 and received a 115 Beyer Speed Figure, and O'Neill said Sky Jack has trained forwardly since then.

"He's doing great," O'Neill said. "He is sound, he is mentally relaxed, and he gallops good every day. Things seem to be coming together really well for the Mile, and if the racing gods are with us on Sunday, I think we'll be okay."

Pride of Ownership top marathoner

Pride of Ownership became the first horse to sweep the local marathon series, which has been run each year since it was inaugurated at Longacres in 1992, when he won the 1 1/2-mile finale in dramatic fashion on Sunday.

With Pride of Ownership buried in traffic at the quarter pole, and Greater Justice spurting to a 2 1/2-length lead and S. S. Hawkeye in hot pursuit, it seemed to everyone except jockey Scott Saito that Pride of Ownership had lost his chance.

"I didn't panic because I knew how this horse could finish," Saito said. "He's a true marathon horse, and there aren't many around."

When he finally got clear past the three-sixteenth pole, Pride of Ownership justified his jockey's confidence with a withering stretch drive that carried him to the wire a head in front of S. S. Hawkeye in 2:32.

Pride of Ownership, a 5-year-old son of Belong to Me trained by Rick Terry, won the initial 1 1/8-mile leg of the series at 19-1 and the 1 1/4-mile leg at 6-1. He was even money against five foes on Sunday.

A hole in one . . . and in pocket

Gary Baze, who has won more races in Washington than any other rider, is apparently a pretty mean golfer as well. While participating in the track's annual golf tournament last week at Elk Run in Kent, Wash., Baze made a hole-in-one on the fourth hole, a 138-yard par three.

Though elated at the time, Baze admitted to having mixed feelings after he was presented with the bar bill for the celebration.

McMurry remembered

A memorial service was held at Emerald on Saturday for L.L. "Packy" McMurry, who died last week at 76.

McMurry was among the most influential figures in the Washington Thoroughbred industry, having spent his entire working life around horses as a farm manager, consultant, bloodstock agent, breeder, and owner. Since 1991, McMurry and his wife, Julie, have owned and operated Royal Match Stud in Enumclaw, Wash., where they stood several of the state's most successful stallions.

New Portland Meadows Inc. fined

Gene Ferryman's New Portland Meadows Inc., which operated Oregon's Portland Meadows race track from 1991 to 2001, has been fined $500,000 for failure to comply with the Clean Water Act during its tenure.

U.S. District Judge Garr M. King issued the civil penalty after a three-day trial in July. Judge King determined that New Portland Meadows Inc. did not take sufficient steps to prevent runoff water from the barn area from reaching the nearby Columbia Slough, an appendage to the Columbia River.

The track's current operator, Magna Entertainment Corp., spent more than $1 million on a waste water treatment facility to resolve the problem.