A Triple Crown season like no other closed with a dramatic twist when Swiss Skydiver emerged as the sixth filly to win the Preakness Stakes in the race’s rich 145-year history on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.
The 1 3/16-mile Preakness, run as the final leg of the series on the first Saturday in October due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was decided by the guile of veteran rider Robby Albarado and the enormous heart of his fast and durable filly.
Albarado, picking up the assignment after Swiss Skydiver was upset in the Longines Kentucky Oaks in her previous start, made a bold move up the rail to take the lead turning for home. Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Authentic engaged his gallant rival in a scintillating stretch duel, but she was full of fight and nipped him by a neck at the wire.
“I’m just really proud of Robby,” said trainer Ken McPeek. “We had to call him into the game at the last minute and he did a great job. I’m proud of her, him.”
Swiss Skydiver’s performance, which carried a fees-paid berth in the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course, was extraordinary in so many ways. In an era when elite horses are asked to compete sparingly, she turned her ninth start into her fifth victory this season and the second-fastest Preakness in history. She stopped the teletimer in an eye-popping 1:53.28.
McPeek expressed regret that 78-year-old Peter Callahan, who purchased the daughter of Daredevil for the bargain price of $35,000 as a yearling at the trainer’s urging, was not among the owners who elected to attend. Due to concerns about COVID-19, Callahan has been staying close to home based on his age and a compromised immune system.
If Callahan had been present, he could not have thanked Albarado enough. The jockey’s ride went a long way toward enabling Swiss Skydiver to join Rachel Alexandra (2009) as the only fillies to win the Preakness since 1924.
“It was a genius move by Robby coming up the fence,” McPeek said. “He saw the hole and he went right at it.”
McPeek, 58, displayed the same go-for-the-gusto verve as Albarado in his willingness to take on the boys. He was undaunted after Swiss Skydiver was a well-beaten second to Art Collector in the July 11 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
This time, Art Collector finished a slot behind Jesus’ Team in fourth while McPeek was rewarded with the second Triple Crown victory of his career. He also kept faith in Sarava when that colt opposed Triple Crown threat War Emblem in the 2002 Belmont Stakes. When War Emblem lost all hope with a bad stumble at the start, Sarava pulled the massive upset at 70-1 to the glee of longshot players everywhere.
Swiss Skydiver, sent off at 11.70-1, was the 55th filly to start the Preakness. The other fillies to beat the boys were Flocarlane (1903), Whimsical (1906), Rhine Maiden (1915) and Nellie Morse (1924).
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was denied a record eighth Preakness triumph when 1.50-1 favorite Authentic and his jockey, John Velazquez, were outdueled. His previous five Derby winners had all taken the Preakness, albeit when it was the second jewel of the Triple Crown and followed two weeks after the run for the roses.
Baffert expressed regret that the race had not unfolded differently. He had envisioned a repeat of the Derby, when Authentic was a convincing front-running victor.
“I thought he was going to be on the lead,” he said. “(Velazquez) said that it didn’t work out and he was rating him. He doesn’t like rating. He wants to go fast.”
Velazquez suggested Authentic lacked the punch he possessed on the first Saturday in September. “By the backstretch, I tried to open up. But he just stood there and Swiss Skydiver came to him. I tried to get him rolling again, but he just stayed with that other horse from the half-mile pole to the wire.”
Many fans had hoped to see more from 2.40-1 second betting choice Art Collector, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. He became a sentimental favorite after trainer Tom Drury, who waited 29 years for a 3-year-old worthy of competing in a Triple Crown race, was forced to scratch the colt from the Derby with a minor foot injury.
The Preakness marked Art Collector’s first defeat in five starts this season. Drury said of the outcome: “He didn’t break as sharp as we hoped he would, and that kind of had us playing catch-up a little bit. He was kind of in tight and it wasn’t the best trip. It wasn’t the trip we were hoping for. But we’ve got no excuse. The winner ran huge.”
That she did – with the emphasis on “she!”