Swiss Skydiver Wins Preakness Stakes at Pimlico
Peter Callahan's Swiss Skydiver prevailed over Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic in a thrilling stretch duel to capture Saturday's 145th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico, becoming the sixth filly to win the 1 3/16-mile classic for 3-year-olds.
The Preakness, traditionally the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, concluded the classic series for 3-year-olds after being postponed from May 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maryland Jockey Club's signature event was renewed without fans in attendance, as were the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20 and the Kentucky Derby Sept. 5.
Swiss Skydiver ($25.40) defeated Authentic by a neck to become the first filly since Rachel Alexandra (2009) to win the Preakness while thwarting the bid by the 3-2 favorite's trainer, Bob Baffert, to win a record-breaking eighth Preakness.
Trained by Kenny McPeek, the 3-year-old daughter of Daredevil joined Nellie Morse (1924), Rhine Maiden (1915), Whimsical (1906), Flocarline (1903), and Rachel Alexandra as the only fillies to beat the boys in the Preakness. She joined such a rare club while turning in a final running time of 1:53.28, second only to 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat's 1:53 clocking.
Swiss Skydiver, who had finished second in the July 11 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland in her only previous start against colts, was the beneficiary of a quick decision by jockey Robby Albarado that helped propel her to the lead leaving the backstretch. From there, she fought off a relentless outside challenge from Authentic around the turn and throughout the stretch run to win her fifth graded stakes this year.
"She is just a real bull. She loves what she does every day. She likes to go to work. She wants to go out early because she doesn't want to wait to go out," McPeek said. "And Robby and I have had a great week here this week. We basically flew up together. We had breakfast, lunch, dinner. I think we were rowing in the same direction and the mojo was good and it happened."
Swiss Skydiver provided Albarado his first Grade 1 stakes victory since 2017. The veteran jockey, who rode Curlin to a Preakness score in 2007, has ridden more than 5,200 winners during his career, hadn't won a graded stakes this year until Saturday. When Tyler Gaffalione opted out of traveling to Pimlico for the Preakness, McPeek decided to give Albarado a shot despite the fact that his business had slowed the past few years.
"Well, owe it all to Kenny. I mean, he believed in me still and, sorry, it's Kenny. It's all Kenny," Albarado said. "People started thinking I can't do it anymore and Kenny was there, just when I needed someone."
It looked like a genius decision by McPeek following his first success in the Preakness. Albarado saved ground aboard Swiss Skydiver around the first turn and along the backstretch before easing her around tiring pacesetter Thousand Words, who set fractions of 24.48 and 47.65 for the first half mile, nearing the half-mile pole. After splitting horses, Albarado sent Swiss Skydiver back to the rail, where she pulled alongside Authentic heading into the far turn and was talented and tough enough to beat the Derby winner to the finish.
"I've had a lot of special horses in my career, but she's definitely right there at the top right now and I don't see a long time until another one does something like that to me," McPeek said. "We work hard every day. And it's a game of failures is the thing about it. I've had actually a streak for Peter that I wasn't proud of. It seemed like we went six or seven years and we really didn't have the kind of horses we wanted."
Swiss Skydiver captured her fifth graded-stakes win in a season that included triumphs in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), Fantasy (G3) at Oaklawn, Santa Anita Oaks (G2) and Alabama (G1) at Saratoga. She was coming off a second-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs Sept. 5.
Authentic, who captured the Kentucky Derby with a dominating front-running performance, was beaten to the lead by Thousand Words, and sat outside his Baffert-trained stablemate around the first turn and into the backstretch before taking a brief lead.
"By the backstretch, I tried to open up, but he just stood there and Swiss Skydiver came to him," said Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who was seeking his first Preakness win aboard Authentic. "I tried to get him rolling again, but he just stayed with that other horse from the half-mile pole to the wire."
When Baffert saddled Triple Crown champion Justify for a victory in the 2018 Preakness, he had tied the record for most wins by a trainer with Robert Wyndham Walden, who saddled seven winners between 1875 and 1888.
Authentic finished 9 ¾ lengths clear of third-place finisher Jesus' Team, who was a neck ahead of Art Collector, the 5-2 second choice.
"I was hoping he was on the lead. But he got beat. He had the whole stretch to get by her. She ran a gallant race," Baffert said. "He's a free-running horse and likes to be on the lead. I saw he wasn't on the lead and was struggling a little bit."
Authentic's second-place finish marked the first time that a Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner lost the Preakness. However, his previous five Derby winners came back in two weeks to win the Preakness. There was a four-week span between the two classics this year.
"We had to get the lead. He runs better on the lead. He likes to be out there running fast. 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," Baffert said. "That's why I like to come back in two weeks."
McPeek said the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) for fillies and mares at Keeneland Nov. 7 is the likely target for Swiss Skydiver but didn't completely rule out the Breeder's Cup Classic (G1) the same day.