Barn Notes

Hop Skip And Away Bears Watching In Reilly 'Cap Saturday

Posted Friday, May 31, 2013



Joe Pierce Jr., the senior man on the Monmouth Park backstretch (he turns 86 on June 24) is down to a five-horse stable these days. But that doesn’t mean you should ever overlook one of his runners.

            Take his entrant in Saturday’s $60,000 John J. Reilly Handicap for example. Hop Skip and Away, owned by Pierce and H.C.B. Lindh, is having a very good season at age 8. He’s gone 1-1-1 in 4 starts this year, all against open company, and should appreciate meeting New Jersey-breds again.

            Hop Skip and Away, a son of Gold Fever, spent the winter in the care of Patricia and Mike Farro, who were stabled in Pennsylvania. He got through two allowance conditions across the Delaware River, and also ran third in the Bensalem Stakes at Parx.

            Now he’s back with state-breds in the Reilly, a six-furlong event he’s run well in before, and Pierce says he’s ready to show his best.

            “The Farros did a helluva job with him over the winter,” Pierce said. “He’s been rested the last two months, and he’s ready to go again.”

            Hop Skip and Away has a solid record in the six-furlong Reilly. He ran in the event for the first time in 2010 and finished third behind Unwritten and Joey P. In 2011, he was third behind Dabnabit and Gunfighter. Last year was his best effort ever in the race, when he finished second, two lengths behind The Hunk.

            While Hop Skip and Away was toiling through the frigid winter up north, Pierce was enjoying the balmy breezes in Florida.

            “Yes, I take the winters off now,” the trainer said. “But I always look forward to getting back to Monmouth. Getting back to the horses. I’ve been racing at Monmouth since 1969, and I wouldn’t know what else to do. No chance I’ll retire.

            “I can’t retire because I need something to do in the mornings,” Pierce said. “I’ve been training so long, I wouldn’t know what else to do with myself.”

            Pierce, whose father Joe Pierce Sr. was a regular on the New Jersey circuit more than 50 years ago, has had a loyal crew throughout his Monmouth days. “Baby Ray,” who had been an assistant for decades, passed away this spring. But Roy Simms, who has been with the father and son Pierces for 50 years, still plays a key role in running the barn.

             “I’m down to five horses right now, but ...,” Pierce said his voice rising with the word “but.” “But I’m expecting two 2-year-olds in from Ocala very soon. Nothing like 2-year-olds to keep you young.”



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