SARATOGA SPRINGS — Same distance, same result, different gender.
Same Preakness participation?
For the second Saturday in a row, a 3-year-old Thoroughbred dominated the competition so thoroughly that the final sixteenth of a mile of racetrack was downshift time.
This time, it was Swiss Skydiver, who was so in command of the 140th Alabama that jockey Tyler Gaffalione allowed himself to dial his filly down well before the wire, saving something for future races.
It was reminiscent of Tiz the Law’s dominating performance in the Travers on Aug. 8, and although Swiss Skydiver will run in the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4 and Tiz the Law is set for the Kentucky Derby the following day, they could have a date in the Oct. 3 Preakness. She has already run against males, and did so admirably in finishing second to Art Collector in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
“We were trying to think a few steps ahead when we ran in the Blue Grass,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “It gave me an opportunity to separate the two fillies [from stablemate Envoutante]. But we got points, if we need them, for the Preakness by running in the Blue Grass. And, of course, we learned how she’d run against the colts.
“So let’s say, if she could win the Oaks, yeah, if she’s still in good order, I think the Preakness would be a great race for the filly.”
Swiss Skydiver, a strapping chestnut daughter of Daredevil owned by Peter Callahan, has had a remarkable season since January, running seven times at seven tracks, from Florida to New Orleans to Arkansas to California to Kentucky to New York.
She still hasn’t raced at her home base of Churchill Downs in Louisville in 2020, but that will be rectified when she runs in the Oaks.
Swiss Skydiver has four graded stakes to her credit, and the $500,000 Alabama was her first shot at a Grade I.
“She’s just unbelievable and special to be around, no matter where you take her, no matter who rides her,” McPeek said. “It’s just a real honor to have a filly like this.
“I love the fact that Tyler geared her down and didn’t make her work too hard today. She just breathes different air, and you just never know when you get a horse like this. Everything we’ve asked her to do, she’s said, ‘OK. No problem.'”
With the New York jockey colony in lockdown because of the pandemic, McPeek tabbed Gaffalione for the Alabama. He rode her in both of her 2019 starts, both at Churchill, but Brian Hernandez Jr. is McPeek’s go-to jockey and was on Swiss Skydiver for her wins in the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds and the Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.
Hernandez will have the mount in the Kentucky Oaks, where Swiss Skydiver likely will square off against the other star in the 3-year-old filly division, the Bob Baffert-trained Gamine.
“Because she’s shipped and been everywhere, I’ve told him all along it’s his mount in the Oaks,” McPeek said.
“I just want to thank Mr. McPeek for giving me this opportunity and trusting me to get her around there,” Gaffalione said. “It was a pleasure getting to ride her. She gets out there and she just keeps going. She really doesn’t tire and I think if somebody would have come up next to her in the stretch, you would have seen a whole other horse.
“She’s more intelligent and more focused on what she has to do [this year]. She can navigate much better and she’s just more powerful.”
Swiss Skydiver stalked Baffert’s Crystal Ball, who was runner-up in the Coaching Club American Oaks earlier in the meet, and comfortably moved past her on the second turn of the mile-and-a-quarter Alabama.
Her lead grew without Gaffalione asking for much and was as much as 6 1/2 lengths before the rider essentially started the gallop-out before the wire.
“I felt comfortable the whole way around there,” Gaffalione said. “She was just carrying me. She had her mind on business and she knew exactly what she wanted to do today. She put in a big performance. Hopefully we didn’t take too much out of her and she’ll be good to go for the Oaks.
“I was slowing her down around the turn just to stay with that filly [Crystal Ball]. I didn’t want to take too much away from her. I just let her out a notch and she did the rest on her own.”
“He was given the instruction that I wanted 48 [seconds] for the first half [mile],” McPeek said. “At Keeneland, I think we went a little quick, and it took a little steam out of her and she couldn’t hold off Art Collector.
“And he spotted it. They went 47 and 4 [47.91], and he was one length off the pace. That was an ‘Atta boy.’ He did a great job.”
Bonny South, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., won the race for second place, a length and a half ahead of Harvey’s Lil Goil in third. McPeek’s other filly in the race, Envoutante, was fourth.
“The winner was waiting for us by the eighth pole,” Ortiz said. “She’s really nice. Congrats to all the connections and I hope for the best for them.”
McPeek said Swiss Skydiver even eats fast.
“I think we fed her about six quarts about six hours before the race. She finishes it in 20 minutes. She eats better than me. And [trainer] Dale [Romans],” he said, patting his stomach and laughing.
“It’s [Kentucky Oaks] going to be an exciting race and will get a lot of attention. I think my filly might even have an advantage, because Churchill is her base. And she’s been two turns repeatedly, and Gamine hasn’t been further than that. Maybe it’s something Bob knows more than me.
“But it’s going to be a great race. We’ll leave Monday morning, hustle her home, and I think we need probably some gallops and one light work, and she’s ready.”
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