October 26, 2020

Swiss Skydiver a Classic wildcard

Swiss Skydiver
Swiss Skydiver (right) overcomes Kentucky Derby winner, Authentic (left), to win the Preakness Stakes (Jim Duley/Maryland Jockey Club)

Swiss Skydiver put herself in the Horse of the Year discussion with a gutsy neck win over Kentucky Derby winner Authentic in the Oct. 3 Preakness (G1), and the 3-year-old filly is expected to step up against a deeper cast in the Nov. 7 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland.

Handicappers will have reason to dismiss her outright, but Swiss Skydiver remains the ultimate wildcard in my estimation. After leaving the starting gate as the 11-1 sixth choice at Pimlico, she figures to be similarly overlooked in the Classic.

Two main knocks exist.

  • First, Swiss Skydiver may not be fast enough to beat older horses Improbable and Maximum Security, or a freshened-up Tiz the Law.
  • Second, she’s a candidate to regress after a massive career-best effort, dueling from the top of the stretch to the wire while being pinned down along the rail by Authentic.
Swiss Skydiver
Swiss Skydiver (Horsephotos.com/Rickelle Nelson)

Defying the knocks

Both are legitimate arguments, but Swiss Skydiver doesn’t fit conventional definitions. She was easy to dismiss in the Preakness following a runner-up effort in the Sept. 4 Kentucky Oaks (G1), being turned back in deep stretch by 15-1 longshot Shedaresthedevil, and I was concerned after watching her pull up shortly after the wire at Churchill Downs. It turns out she was just exhausted following the 1 1/8-mile Oaks.

The chestnut bounced back quickly and appears to have some iron in her blood. Swiss Skydiver has raced nine times this year, over nine different tracks, and the Preakness represented her best performance by a wide margin. In her four previous wins this year, the Kenny McPeek-trained filly either led wire-to-wire or received a plum up-close stalking trip on the outside.

She didn’t appreciate being stuck inside horses in the Kentucky Oaks, and Swiss Skydiver found herself in the same spot along the Preakness backstretch before new jockey Robby Albarado pushed the button entering the far turn.

After accelerating from fifth to take a slim advantage turning for home, Swiss Skydiver displayed a new level of courage and tenacity in the final furlongs. It was difficult to believe how big she ran.

The 1 1/4-mile Classic distance fits her well.

In two previous starts beyond nine furlongs, the 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1) in mid-August and 1 3/16-mile Preakness, Swiss Skydiver has registered career-best 109 Brisnet Speed rating. Her Brisnet Late Pace numbers suggest she’s peaking, increasing in the last four starts (89-90-106-109).

Swiss Skydiver must take another step forward in the Classic, but I’m not putting anything past the remarkable filly.

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