Kenny McPeek’s star trainee Swiss Skydiver has an automatic berth for both the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and for the Classic after her historic Preakness win under Robby Albarado at Pimlico at the start of this month. She became the sixth filly to take the race.
McPeek believes that she is at her best over a longer distance, suggesting the Classic, but is seriously considering the Distaff as it looks to be an easier target.
Contested by fillies and mares over a mile and a furlong, Swiss Skydiver is currently the second favorite with the American-friendly online racebooks in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland on November 7. The betting is headed by the 2018 Distaff winner, Monomoy Girl. Trained by Brad Cox, this five-year-old daughter of Tapizar has won her three latest starts and was most recently seen winning the grade one La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs on September 4. It was a convincing victory, she triumphed by almost two lengths under Florent Geroux.
Steve Asmussen’s ultra-consistent Midnight Bisou (5/1) and Bob Baffert’s Gamine (6/1) are also seen as likely Distaff contenders and are on offer at single figure odds. Another five-year-old, Midnight Bisou finished third in the 2018 Distaff and placed second last year. Gamine was last seen finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks, behind Swiss Skydiver who took second. They will both benefit from the 3lb weight for age allowance as three-year-olds.
Swiss Skydiver would have to take on the colts again in the Breeders’ Cup Classic which is run over a mile and a quarter and provides three times the prize fund with $6million up for grabs. The Classic betting is led by Baffert’s Improbable and Barclay Tagg’s Tiz The Law at around 4/1. Both colts sprung surprises last time out. Improbable got the better of his much more fancied new barnmate Maximum Security to take the Awesome Again Stakes in late September by a considerable margin whilst Tiz The Law was a beaten heavy favorite in the Kentucky Derby. It was only the second time he had been headed and both his defeats were at Churchill Downs. This time the track was fast rather than sloppy.
It was Baffert’s Authentic who took The Run for the Roses but he was beaten next time out by Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness. Like Maximum Security he is available at approximately 8/1. Swiss Skydiver’s Breeders’ Cup Classic chances are viewed to be similar to those of Albert Stall Jnr’s Tom’s D’Etat, they are both priced at around 10/1.
The seven-year-old Tom’s D’Etat had excuses last time out for finishing third, over two lengths behind Improbable in the grade one Whitney Stakes at Saratoga in August. He started as the evens favorite but fell out of the stalls under Joel Rosario and found himself with plenty of ground to make up. He had started as the favorite in his previous four runs too and delivered for his followers every time.
How good was Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness?
Swiss Skydiver battled bravely to maintain her advantage over Authentic after a sustained duel and win by a neck in the Preakness. It was this daughter of Daredevil’s first try at the distance of a mile and one and a half furlongs but she galloped all the way to the wire to hold off the Kentucky Derby winner’s finishing flourish. McPeek was overwhelmed by her success as was her owner Peter Callahan. They had hoped that she could succeed but were not expecting their plan for her to come to fruition in such exalted company.
They had valid reasons to hope rather than expect. Not many fillies or mares even attempt to beat the colts in the Preakness, the last one to succeed was Steve Asmussen’s Rachel Alexandra in 2009. It was Albarado’s second Preakness win and McPeek’s first. Swiss Skydiver’s talent thwarted Baffert’s record-breaking eighth race win bid. He had reason to expect victory, Authentic started as the Preakness favorite at 6/4. Swiss Skydiver was an afterthought for bettors at 12/1.
It was also the first time she had been ridden by Robby Albarado. McPeek had trouble securing a jockey booking after using Mike Smith and Tyler Gaffalione only twice. The former had been criticized by McPeek for getting the fractions wrong and the latter for giving away ground. When Smith was unsurprisingly unavailable to re-establish his partnership with the filly, Albarado, who was on standby for the job, got the call up.
McPeek insisted that Albarado ride his filly a number of times in her work before the race. There were probably plenty of race riding instructions regarding the appropriate pace and the importance of hugging the rail. There were presumably precise instructions on the use of the whip too.
Despite the prolonged presence of Authentic at her side Albarado did not deliver a single strike behind the saddle. Like many fillies and mares this three-year-old daughter of Darethedevil presumably responds best to more gentle persuasion. McPeek has strong views and prolonging Swiss Skydiver’s enthusiasm for racing through gentle handling is a very sensible one.
Swiss Skydiver broke well from stall four allowing Albarado to get past the horses drawn lower and grab the rail with minimal expenditure of energy. Only Thousand Words and Authentic went past her so she could witness their duel for the lead without wasting a yard. Art Collector settled on her outside as they formed the second row.
Albarado succeeded in ticking the ‘do not waste ground’ and ‘do not go too fast early’ boxes. He dared to leave the rail only once to pass the weakening Thousand Words who had raced on the inside of Authentic throughout. He managed to take a narrow lead on the inside of Authentic half a mile from home and got into the hands and heels drive position two furlongs out.
John Velazquez’s more vigorous efforts on Authentic failed to change their positions and Swiss Skydiver won by a neck. McPeek could not criticize the ride Albarado gave Swiss Skydiver as she enjoyed a perfectly timed, ground saving ride to achieve victory over the more fancied colts. Will she have the luxury of such a dream trip again? It is unlikely.
McPeek and Callahan are not going to be rushed into making a decision on her Breeders’ Cup contest but if the principals maintain their entries expect to see her in the Distaff.