Swiss Skydiver Ready for Her Whitney Comeback and a Bid to Make History

Champion filly Swiss Skydiver, shown winning the Beholder Mile in March, makes her first start in nearly four months Saturday in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Difficult circumstances may lead to an historic run for Swiss Skydiver in the $1 million Whitney Stakes on Saturday at iconic Saratoga Race Course.

weekend Television schedule

Friday, Aug. 6: 1 p.m.-6:30 p.m. ET on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Saturday, Aug. 7: 12:30 p.m.-7 p.m. on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Sunday, Aug. 8: 1 p.m.-1:30 p.m. on FS2; 1:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m. on FS1; post time varies on TVG

The reigning 3-year-old champion of her division will look to become the seventh filly to win the Whitney in the 94-year history of the prestigious race and the first since the great Personal Ensign in 1988. Personal Ensign was never defeated in an unforgettable 13-race career.

Trainer Ken McPeek admits he was not so much thinking about Swiss Skydiver’s chance to make her indelible mark on the Whitney or the immense challenge of defeating some of the nation’s finest older males in a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic. Very simply, the filly has not run since April 17 and she desperately needs a race.

“With the way the ball has bounced the past month, we really wanted to get her back in the game,” McPeek said.

The ball has not bounced Swiss Skydiver’s way in a long time. After a dazzling 10-start sophomore campaign in which the $35,000 yearling emerged as the sixth filly to win the Preakness Stakes and banked more than $1.7 million for owner Peter Callahan, the chestnut daughter of Daredevil seemingly picked up where she left off in her first start of 2021.

She traveled to the West Coast to win the March 13 Beholder Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park with relative 2 ¾-length ease for her third Grade 1 triumph. But in her next start, she took on rising star Letruska and Monomoy Girl in yet another Grade 1 event – the Apple Blossom Handicap on April 17 at Oaklawn Park – and proved to be no match. Her connections believe she did not take to the track when she weakened to be third, 6 ½ lengths behind Letruska.

Ken McPeek (Eclipse Sportswire)

McPeek and Callahan next targeted the Ogden Phipps on June 5 at Belmont Park before a fever forced them to scrap those plans. It was about to get weirder.

The chestnut daughter of Daredevil shipped to Saratoga to take aim at the July 25 Shuvee Stakes only to have a horse in her barn diagnosed with equine herpesvirus-1. She and the other horses in the barn were placed under quarantine. So much for the Shuvee.

And that is how Swiss Skydiver suddenly joined 6-5 Knicks Go, 8-5 Maxfield, 4-1 Silver State and 10-1 By My Standards in comprising a small but ultra-talented Whitney field. She and new rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. will break from post three. They are listed at 6-1, the second-longest odds in the morning line.

The star quality of the males his filly will encounter does not deter McPeek. It is what it is.

“Honestly, I really haven’t put much thought into filly or colt. She’s doing well and it’s really the only race she’s eligible for,” he said. “She was unable to run in the Shuvee on the 25th, so we were in the position of, where do we run her? Certainly, in a five-horse field for a million dollars on a racetrack she’s won over and she’s doing well and she’s here, we’ll see what happens. We’ve always been game.”

Swiss Skydiver secured her first Grade 1 victory at Saratoga with a comfortable 3 ½-length victory for jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the Alabama Stakes last August. In the start before that in a schedule turned upside-down by the pandemic, she had been beaten by the same margin when she tested males for the first time and placed second to Art Collector in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in July with Mike Smith aboard.

Swiss Skydiver journeyed to nine different tracks last season. She won half of her 10 starts with two runner-up finishes and one third. For many observers, she provided the most memorable moment of a largely-forgettable 2020 when jockey Robby Albarado launched a bold move up the rail that greatly contributed to a taut victory by a neck against eventual Horse of the Year Authentic in the Preakness. She went on to close an otherwise brilliant campaign with a thud, when she stumbled at the start of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Keeneland and finished a punchless seventh.

Ortiz, Jr. will become the seventh different rider to be given a leg up when Swiss Skydiver turns the Whitney into her 15th lifetime start.

“He was open in the race and he’s, obviously, a top rider here in New York,” McPeek said. “We’ve had some other people here who’ve done a good job on her, but she’s never needed a regular jockey or her racetrack. You can take her about anywhere or ride her with anybody.”

Swiss Skydiver tuned up for the Whitney by covering five furlongs in 1:01.21 seconds on Aug. 1 at Saratoga, seventh among 31 horses that worked the distance that morning.

“She’s moving as well as she ever has,” McPeek said. “When we worked her in company, she’s been devastating to the other company. That’s what she’s going to have to do Saturday.”

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