By Richard Rosenblatt
The top 3-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver is set to take on the boys in the $600,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on Saturday in a 13-horse field vying for key qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby (G1).
Swiss Skydiver has risen to the top of the heap in her division with three straight graded-stakes wins, and would become the second filly to run in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass since the track’s opening spring meet in 1937. Harriet Sue finished fifth in the 1944 Blue Grass.
Trainer Ken McPeek also was considering the $400,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) for fillies (also on Saturday) for Swiss Skydiver but ultimately decided on the Blue Grass. McPeek also trains Envoutante, who is entered in the Ashland.
Swiss Skydiver was made the 3-1 morning-line favorite on Wednesday, and will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith and leave from the No. 7 post. The filly receives a five-pound weight allowance and carries 118 pounds. The 12 others each carry 123 pounds.
Swiss Skydiver, who tops the Oaks points-qualifying leaderboard with 310 points, has no Derby qualifying points but the Blue Grass offers 100-40-20-10 to the first four finishers.
“Any other year, (it) would have been easy (not to run against males),” McPeek said in a Keeneland press release. “I’ve got another filly in the Ashland that we’re fond of, and I hate running against each other if I can help it.”
The Blue Grass was postponed from its April 4 date when Keeneland canceled its spring meet due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Kentucky Oaks is Sept. 4, the Derby is Sept. 5. A big effort in the Blue Grass and both options are open.
“We did Triple Crown nominate her. (The race) seems to be pretty wide open,’’ said McPeek. “(Swiss Skydiver is) doing super. She gets weight from all these colts. I think she’s going to like the added distance. I like the mile and an eighth better than the mile and a sixteenth (Ashland distance). It’ll be exciting.”
Among the field are several 3-year-olds already on the road to the Derby, including Basin (currently ninth with 50 points), Shivaree (40 points), Enforceable (33 points), Finnick the Fierce (25 points) and Attachment Rate (15 points).
Also entered: Art Collector; Mr. Big News; Man in the Can; Hard Lighting; Rushie; Hunt the Front; and Tiesto.
Rushie ran third in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on June 6 and is the 5-1 second choice. Trained by Mike McCarthy, Rushie will be ridden by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano and leave from the No. 10 post.
Art Collector is 6-1, Basin, Enforceable and Shivaree are each 8-1; Hard Lighting is the longest shot in the field at 50-1.
Swiss Skydiver, owned by Peter Callahan, is 3-for-5 this year, and 4-for-7 overall with earnings of $557,980. The chestnut is a daughter of Daredevil-Expo Gold, by Johannesburg.
The filly started 2020 with a fifth in the Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in January, then ran third in the Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds in February. She then took the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), the Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park and most recently was an easy four-length winner in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) on June 6.
The race may set up well for the filly with a good break from the middle of field. Swiss Skydiver will likely be sent to the lead, along with the likes of Shivaree, departing from the rail under Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Art Collector, winner of his last two races at Churchill Downs, could also be near the front of the pack with Brian Hernandez, Jr. aboard.
Enforceable, trained by new Hall of Famer Mark Casse, is making his first start since finishing fifth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) on March 21. Look for the gray son of Tapit to make his usual late run.
Mr. Big News, winner of the Oaklawn Stakes on April 11 over a sloppy track, has been training well for Bret Calhoun but will need to finish first or second to move into Derby contention.
Basin is 0-for-3 this year, after winning the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga in 2019. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Basin finished third in the Rebel Stakes (G2), fourth in the Oaklawn Stakes and second in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1) on May 2.
“He is fit, ready to go, and ’’said Ryne Poncik of Jackpot Farm, owner of Basin. “This nine weeks since the Arkansas Derby has really helped him. The Arkansas Derby really took a lot out of him trying to keep up with Charlatan all the way around there. So, on these nine weeks he got good weight and he’s really looking good.”
Post time for the 96th running of the Blue Grass is 5:30 p.m. ET
TOYOTA BLUE GRASS (G2) POLE POSITION
|1||Shivaree||Ralph Nicks||John Velazquez||8-1|
|2||Finnick the Fierce||Rey Hernandez||Jose Ortiz||12-1|
|3||Art Collector||Tom Drury Jr.||Brian Hernandez Jr.||6-1|
|4||Mr. Big News||Bret Calhoun||Mitchell Murrill||10-1|
|5||Man in the Can||Ron Moquett||Tyler Gaffalione||12-1|
|6||Hard Lighting||Alexis Delgado||Rafael Bejarano||50-1|
|7||Swiss Skydiver||Kenny McPeek||Mike Smith||3-1|
|8||Basin||Steve Asmussen||Ricardo Santana Jr.||8-1|
|9||Attachment Rate||Dale Romans||Luis Saez||20-1|
|10||Rushie||Michael McCarthy||Javier Castellano||5-1|
|11||Hunt the Front||Nick Zito||Corey Lanerie||20-1|
|12||Enforceable||Mark Casse||Joel Rosario||8-1|
|13||Tiesto||Bill Mott||Flavien Prat||15-1|