December 4, 2020

Swiss Skydiver conquers the boys in second-fastest Preakness

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

Swiss Skydiver was doing so well during the spring in dominating her fellow 3-year-old fillies that trainer Kenny McPeek thought she might be an even better fit for the Kentucky Derby (G1). A 3 1/2-length loss in the Blue Grass (G2) to Art Collector largely changed his mind about the Derby, but it didn’t deter thoughts of possibly taking a shot at the Preakness Stakes (G1) with the daughter of Daredevil, who subsequently cruised in the Alabama (G1) and finished second in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

Following Authentic’s upset victory in the Derby over Tiz the Law, and that Belmont Stakes (G1) winner’s later defection from Saturday’s $1 million Preakness, McPeek decided to give Swiss Skydiver her chance against the boys in the delayed final classic of the season over 1 3/16 miles. It proved the right move as the filly made history when narrowly prevailing in an epic stretch duel over Authentic in a time of 1:53.28, the second fastest 1 3/16-mile Preakness on record behind Secretariat’s 1:53 in 1973.

Swiss Skydiver is the sixth filly to win the Preakness. Rachel Alexandra snapped an 85-year drought for fillies at Pimlico when she won in 2009. She was preceded by Flocarline (1903), Whimsical (1906), Rhine Maiden (1915), and Nellie Morse (1924).

This was the second classic win for McPeek, who saddled Sarava to an upset over the Triple Crown-seeking War Emblem in the 2002 Belmont. Swiss Skydiver was ridden for the first time Saturday by Robby Albarado, who rode Hall of Famer Curlin to victory in the 2007 Preakness, but whose success at the top level of the sport had noticeably slipped in recent years.

To his credit, Albarado rode one of the best races of his career in this Preakness. Swiss Skydiver broke well and found a cozy spot along the inside behind the Bob Baffert-trained duo of Thousand Words and Authentic, who raced in tandem through fractions of :24.48 and :47.65. With Authentic taking over midway down the backside and Thousand Words retreating a bit inside, Albarado rushed the filly in between those two to challenge Authentic for the lead, which she seized approaching the far turn.

“I had an opportunity, a split second, to take advantage of the rail because Johnny (Velazquez on Authentic) was sitting off the fence there,” Albarado said. “I made a conscious decision on the backside. ‘It’s give or take now. Do I make that move now or do I wait to see if they come back to me?'”

From there, the Preakness proved a two-horse race. The pair battled head-to-head over the final five-sixteenths of the ancient Baltimore course, but in front of an empty grandstand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even without the roar of more than 100,000 fans, the two put on a thrilling show, with the filly relentlessly digging in and fending off the Derby winner with every stride. At the wire, Swiss Skydiver won by a neck from Authentic, the 3-2 favorite.

“It was a genius move by Robby coming up the fence. He saw a hole and went right at it,” McPeek said. “It felt like she took him there. If he waited, she would take him there.”

Although Authentic produced a wonderful effort, Baffert felt the colt wasn’t on his game tactically.

“That’s a good filly. He had every chance to get by her. He got beat. He just couldn’t get by her. She dug in. She’s tough, Baffert said.”

“We had to get the lead. He runs better on the lead. He likes to be out there running fast,” he added. “When I saw 24 [seconds] that’s really slow for him. That’s how he won the Derby, get him running. But (Velazquez) said when he went to pick it up he didn’t have it today.”

Owned by Peter Callahan, Swiss Skydiver paid $25.40. It was 9 3/4 lengths back to 40-1 chance Jesus’ Team, who edged Art Collector for third by a head. The order of finish was rounded out by Max Player, Excession, Mr. Big News, Thousand Words, Ny Traffic, Pneumatic, and Liveyourbeastlife.

With this historic victory against males, Swiss Skydiver could prove hard to depose in the voting for champion 3-year-old filly regardless of what happens the rest of the year. Although fifth in the Gasparilla S. at Tampa Bay Downs and third in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) to start the year, she subsequently reeled off wins in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Fantasy (G3), and Santa Anita Oaks (G2) prior to her run in the Blue Grass. In the Fantasy, she finished more than 13 lengths ahead of Shedaresthedevil, who only had a margin of 1 1/2 lengths on Swiss Skydiver in the Kentucky Oaks.

“I think she should have won the Oaks too. Maybe if we stay inside, we win that one too, but it is what it is,” McPeek said.

In addition to the Woodlawn Vase, Saturday’s victory also yielded an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland over 1 1/4 miles on Nov. 7 for Swiss Skydiver, though she could also go back to facing fillies and mares in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff over 9 furlongs the same afternoon. Her record presently stands at 11-6-3-1, $1,792,980.

“We can look at both races, I suppose,” McPeek said. “We got in for the Distaff after the Alabama, but I would say right now we would probably lean towards the older fillies and mares. But nothing set in stone and we don’t have to make a decision today.”

Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Swiss Skydiver was produced by Expo Gold, a daughter of Johannesburg who’s also reared the stakes-placed Miss Hot Legs. Swiss Skydiver was a $35,000 Keeneland September yearling.