By Richard Rosenblatt
It’s on to Louisville for Swiss Skydiver after cruising to victory in the $500,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday in one of the most prestigious races for 3-year-old fillies.
Minutes after the 3 ½-length victory over Bonny South, trainer Kenny McPeek said his star filly would likely run next in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on Sept. 4, taking on another sensational filly in Gamine.
But McPeek did not leave out the possibility of instead taking on Tiz the Law and the boys in the Kentucky Derby (G1), on Sept. 5. Or perhaps the Preakness, which is the final leg of the 2020 Triple Crown on Oct. 3.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the Oaks,’’ McPeek said on the FS-1 broadcast. “Peter (owner Peter Callahan) and I will talk, but we’re leaning pretty hard toward the Oaks.
“Tiz the Law raced here last weekend and was ultra-impressive (winning the Travers) and if you hold the two against each other I’m not sure we want to be up against him right yet.’’
He then added: “Maybe the Preakness.”
For now though, Swiss Skydiver added the first Grade 1 victory to her impressive resume, which includes wins in the Rachel Alexandra (G2), the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) and the Fantasy Stakes (G3) and a strong second to Art Collector in the Blue Grass (G2) against the boys.
“Every time we take her over there, she does what we ask her to,’’ McPeek said. “She seems to be getting bigger and stronger as the year goes. She’s a very special filly to be around. She’s well-traveled and sturdy, and that’s what you need in a good horse.”
The chestnut daughter of Daredevil, purchased for $35,000 at the 2018 Keeneland Yearling Sale, improved her career record to 9-5-2-1 and earnings of $952,980.
Swiss Skydiver, the even-money favorite in the field of seven, casually stalked the pace-setter Crystal Ball through opening fractions of 23.55 seconds for the first quarter, 47.91 for the half and 1:12.27 for three-quarters. As they headed around the final turn, jockey Tyler Gaffalione guided Swiss Skydiver into the lead and when the field turned for home, Swiss Skydiver took control and rolled to the easy victory in the 140th running of the Alabama. Winning time for the 1 ¼ miles was 2:03.04. Tiz the Law won the 1 ¼-mile Travers in 2:00.65.
The Alabama win gave Swiss Skydiver an automatic berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) as part of the “Win and You’re In” challenge series.
The Oaks would be a matchup of the two best 3-year-olds in the land – Bob Baffert’s Gamine versus Swiss Skydiver.
Gamine is coming off two monster victories – by 18 ¾ lengths in the Acorn (G1) at Belmont on June 20 and by 7 lengths in the Test (G1) at the Spa on Aug. 8.
“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.”
With COVID-19 health and safety restrictions involving testing and traveling for jockeys, Gaffalione replaced regular rider Brian Hernandez, Jr., aboard Swiss Skydiver in the Alabama.
“Brian Hernandez will ride her in the Oaks,’’ McPeek said. “He’s been my go-to jock for a long time. He’s spent a lot of time with her and around her.”
Harvey’s Lil Goil finished third, followed by Envoutante (also trained by McPeek), Crystal Ball, Spice is Nice, and Fire Coral.
Pneumatic wins Pegasus; next stop could be Kentucky Derby
Lightly-raced Pneumatic ($3.60) auditioned well for the Kentucky Derby by rolling to a 2 ½-length victory over Jesus’ Team in the $150,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park in the final Derby-points qualifier before the Run for the Roses.
There was no immediate word from trainer Steve Asmussen if the 3-year-old son of Uncle Mo was Derby bound, but jockey Joe Bravo was quite impressed.
“I don’t know what their plans are going forward with this horse, but I’d like to say he did this very effortlessly and well within himself,” Bravo said.
Pneumatic, who did not race as a 2-year-old, is 3-for-5, with a fourth-place finish behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20.
The win was worth 20 Derby-qualifying points, placing Pneumatic 11th on the leaderboard with 45 points. The Derby’s maximum field is 20, and it doesn’t look like it will be a full field. It seems likely if Pneumatic comes out of the race in good form, he’ll be a go for the Derby.
Arkaan set the pace with Pneumatic in stalking position through fractions of 24.17, 48.28, and 1:12.80. Bravo nudged his colt entering the final turn and Pneumatic took over, then easily held off Jesus’ Team. Arkaan was third in the field of eight. Winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:44.76.