Saratoga, N.Y. — One week after Gamine displayed a dominant effort against 3-year-old fillies in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Longines Test, Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver followed suit against fellow sophomore fillies picking up a fourth graded stakes triumph in the 140th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Alabama going the classic distance of 1 ¼ miles on Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Kenny McPeek, who conditioned 2018 Alabama victor Eskimo Kisses, Swiss Skydiver arrived at the historic test off a game runner-up effort against colts in the Grade 2 Blue Grass on July 11 at Keeneland. With her 3 ½-length Alabama score, Swiss Skydiver has made all seven of her starts this season over different tracks, including three prior graded stakes victories. The daughter of Daredevil won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on March 28, the Grade 3 Fantasy on May 1 at Oaklawn Park and the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks on June 6.
“She’s just really special. Every time we take here over there, she does what you ask her to,” McPeek said. “She seems to be getting bigger and stronger as the year goes. She’s just a very special filly to be around. I’m so happy for Peter Callahan. He’s given me opportunities to buy his horses for him for years now and this one makes up for a lot of average ones I’ve bought.”
Swiss Skydiver broke well under jockey Tyler Gaffalione from post 5 and tracked pacesetter Crystal Ball into the first turn through an opening quarter-mile in 23.55 seconds and a half in 47.91 over the fast main track. Approaching the far turn, Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano began asking more from a weary Crystal Ball as Swiss Skydiver took command around the far turn.
At the top of the stretch Gaffalione shook the reins and began to draw off from the rest of the field. By the eighth-pole, Swiss Skydiver was all wrapped up and strolled home an easy winner in a final time of 2:03.04.
Bonny South was a late-closing second finishing 1 ½ lengths to the better of Harvey’s Lil Goil in third. Envoutante, Crystal Ball, Spice is Nice and Fire Coral completed the full order of finish.
“I felt comfortable the whole way around there,” said Gaffalione, who scored a fifth stakes victory of the meet. “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.”
The Alabama was the first time Gaffalione had been aboard Swiss Skydiver since she was a close runner-up against winners over a muddy main track at Churchill Downs in November. He had previously guided the filly to a 5 ½-length victory on debut at the Louisville oval.
“She’s more intelligent and more focused on what she has to do. She can navigate much better and she’s just more powerful,” Gaffalione said.
McPeek was full of praise for Gaffalione’s well-executed ride.
“He was given one instruction: I told him I wanted to go :48 for the first half-mile. I thought the race at Keeneland [G2 Blue Grass] we went a little quick in 46 and two for the first half and it took a little steam out of her and she couldn’t hold off Art Collector. He spotted it [today]. They went in 47 and four and he was one length off the pace. That was an ‘Atta boy,’ he did a great job.”
Swiss Skydiver earned an additional 100 qualifying points towards the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on September 4 and sits atop the leaderboard with 350 points.
Although Swiss Skydiver earned 40 qualifying points for the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby when finishing second in the Blue Grass, McPeek said the filly would more than likely race in the Oaks and confirmed that jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. would have the mount.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Oaks,” McPeek said. “Peter and I will sit down and talk about it but we’re leaning pretty hard to the Oaks. Tiz the Law’s race here last week was ultra-impressive and if you hold the two against each other; I’m not sure we want to be up against him yet.”
A showdown against dual Grade 1-winner Gamine will likely await Swiss Skydiver in the Kentucky Oaks.
“It’s exciting. It’s going to get a lot of attention,” McPeek said. “We don’t have any fear of her. My filly might even have an advantage because Churchill is our base and she’s went two turns repeatedly and hasn’t had any trouble doing that.”
While the Kentucky Derby is likely out the question, McPeek did not rule out a start in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes on October 3 at Pimlico Race Course, which will be the final leg of the 2020 Triple Crown.
“If she could win the Oaks and is still in good order, I think the Preakness would be a great race to win with the filly,” McPeek said. “We were trying to think a few steps ahead when we ran in the Blue Grass. It gave me an opportunity to separate the two fillies and it gave Envoutante [who ran third in the Grade 1 Ashland for McPeek] to prove herself a little bit. But we got points if we need them for the Preakness by running in the Blue Grass and we found out how she fit against colts.”
Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, Swiss Skydiver is out of the Johannesburg broodmare Expo Gold and was purchased by McPeek for $35,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale from the Select Sales consignment.
Returning $4.30 for a $2 win bet as the mutuel favorite, Swiss Skydiver banked $275,000 in victory while improving her consistent record to 9-5-2-1 and her earnings to $952,980.