Saturday’s $301,000 Beholder Mile (G1) honors a multiple champion mare who defeated males. Hence it was fitting that Swiss Skydiver, last year’s Preakness (G1)-winning champion three-year-old filly, returned triumphant in the Santa Anita feature.
“Maybe we’ll go hunt Monomoy Girl now. We’ll see,” trainer Ken McPeek told track publicity, whetting the appetite for a rematch with the two-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) champion.
Peter J. Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver was last seen finishing an uncharacteristic seventh to Monomoy Girl in the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, where she was compromised by stumbling out of the gate. Her prior form made her the class of the field here, and the 14-10 favorite was back on song.
Not quickest into stride on the rail, Swiss Skydiver nevertheless got away cleanly. The Daredevil filly put herself in a stalking spot behind pacesetter Golden Principal through fractions of :23.14 and :46.80, creeping closer down the backstretch with Robby Albarado.
Golden Principal’s nearest pursuer, Harvest Moon, had Swiss Skydiver pocketed, but favorite backers could see on the far turn that she wouldn’t be able to keep her there. Harvest Moon was coming under increasing pressure to maintain her position, while Swiss Skydiver was on hold for an opportunity.
Albarado began to angle out at the six-furlong mark in 1:11.19, just as Harvest Moon no longer had the energy or will to contain the champion. The race was effectively over when Swiss Skydiver saw daylight leaving the far turn. Soaring past Golden Principal in a few strides, the 124-pound highweight opened up by 2 3/4 lengths while completing the mile in 1:36.18.
Bob Baffert fillies took the placings. As Time Goes By, a daughter of American Pharoah and McPeek’s outstanding mare Take Charge Lady, closed well for second, and stablemate Golden Principal settled for third. Baffert had celebrated a big win on the undercard with Triple Tap, a Tapit half-brother to American Pharoah.
Harvest Moon retreated to fourth, followed by longshots This Tea, Clockstrikestwelve, and Miss Stormy D. Chilean champion and last-out La Canada (G3) romper Sanenus was withdrawn after tying up, according to Daily Racing Form.
Swiss Skydiver has bankrolled $2,025,480 from her 13-7-3-1 line. The WinStar Farm-bred, out of the Johannesburg mare Expo Gold, was sourced by McPeek for just $35,000 as a Keeneland September yearling.
“Being on the inside, circumstances dictate that you need to get away clean to get some kind of a forward position,” Albarado recapped. “I knew we had speed in the race but if I could get her in position, get her to clip off 12s every eighth, she comes home pretty fast. Pretty much up the backside, every point I felt like she was right there with me the whole way. She was taking deep breaths around there. When I finally gave her some room there she took off. It was all her; I was just a passenger.
“She’s been phenomenal. She’s been great since the day one when I set eyes on her.”
“Yes, she met expectations, but you never know,” McPeek said. “The distance for me was a little bit of a worry because of the run into the first turn. But Robby does know her so well, to get her in 12s (for each furlong), just get her in a nice rhythm and let her make her run. You know, you can’t force anything with her, and if you go too fast early, she will wilt a little bit.
“She like cruises through everything, even when she gallops. The feed tub’s the biggest deal with her. I’ve never had a horse, colt or filly, eat like she does. It just makes my job so much easier.”
Swiss Skydiver’s hardy nature was a major storyline throughout her Eclipse campaign that saw her crisscross the country. Her other wins came in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Fantasy (G3), Santa Anita Oaks (G2), Alabama (G1), and the epic Preakness at the expense of Kentucky Derby (G1) hero and Horse of the Year Authentic. Swiss Skydiver also placed second in the Blue Grass (G2) and Kentucky Oaks (G1). She was upstaged in the latter by fellow Daredevil daughter Shedaresthedevil, who made a winning comeback herself in Saturday’s Azeri S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
McPeek indicated that a return trip to Oaklawn for the April 17 Apple Blossom (G1) – Monomoy Girl’s stated target – was an option for Swiss Skydiver, along with Churchill Downs.
“Maybe the Apple Blossom, maybe the La Troienne (G1) (at Churchill on Kentucky Oaks Day April 30). One of those two…She’s just really good. Maybe we’ll go hunt Monomoy Girl now. We’ll see.”
Earlier in the $100,500 San Simeon S. (G3), Gregorian Chant continued his ascent as a turf sprinter by outdueling Sombeyay to the wire. Jolie Olimpica, the 11-10 favorite, tired to third after an early pace battle.
Old Bones Racing Stable, Slam Dunk Racing, and Michael Nentwig’s Gregorian Chant had won a couple of allowances over a route, but the Phil D’Amato trainee was underachieving in stakes. A dramatic cutback to six furlongs – the shortest distance of his career – for the restricted Clocker’s Corner S. Jan. 24 proved a revelation as the British-bred stormed from last to first.
Back at the same track and trip Saturday, Gregorian Chant went off as the 3.90-1 second choice, and again uncorked a powerful rally to go 2-for-2 in turf sprints. A returning Juan Hernandez exercised patience through the initial stages, anchoring the gray near the rear while Jolie Olimpica scampered forward.
The favorite didn’t have her way for long, for Cistron hustled to match strides with Jolie Olimpica after an opening quarter in :22.72 on the good course. Cistron had his head in front at the half-mile split in :45.52, but Jolie Olimpica began to get the upper hand entering the stretch.
Moving best of all, though, was Gregorian Chant winding up on the outside. Just when the Gregorian gelding was going to pounce, Sombeyay exploited a seam and suddenly launched a bid himself. Gregorian Chant now had a fight on his hands, but he met the challenge and prevailed by a neck in 1:08.79.
“He’s a really cool horse,” Hernandez said of Gregorian Chant. “He loves to run at the end part. He broke slow and I just let him get comfortable in the back and then when we went into the stretch, Phil had told me to get him rolling and that’s what I did. The horse is a nice horse – he helped me a lot in the stretch. I went out, and he did the rest to win the race.”
The top two had the finish to themselves, with Jolie Olimpica 2 1/2 lengths adrift. She bested Cistron by a neck for third. Rounding out the order of finish were Barristan the Bold, who stumbled at the start, and Bob and Jackie. Sparky Ville and Shashashakemeup were scratched.
Gregorian Chant’s resume now reads 14-5-0-2, $225,000. The winner of his sole Irish start at Dundalk as a juvenile in 2018, he had tried several stateside stakes. His best result was a third in last fall’s Lure S. until his conversion to the sprint game.
“It took us a while to figure out what he wanted to do,” D’Amato said. “This horse has found his home sprinting, no question. There’s so much difference in him now, compared to him at three and four. He’s matured a lot and we will definitely keep him short.”
Bred by Clarendon Farm in Great Britain, Gregorian Chant was a bargain 7,000-guineas buy as a Tattersalls December weanling. His original trainer, John Joseph Murphy, secured him for €23,000 as a Tattersalls Ireland yearling. Gregorian Chant’s dam, the Fasliyev mare Tabrina, is a half to the Group 1-placed duo of Thomire and Thompson Rouge. This is the family of multiple Group 1-winning Italian highweight Tisserand.