By Richard Rosenblatt
It’s a filly, in the Preakness! In near record time!
After a thrilling stretch duel, the filly Swiss Skydiver held off Kentucky Derby winner Authentic by a neck in a historic $1 million Preakness Stakes (G1) – the final leg of the 2020 Triple Crown.
The winning time for the 1 3-16 miles was 1:53.28, according to Equibase, the second fastest in Preakness history — .28 seconds off Secretariat’s record of 1:53 set in 1973.
The sensational Swiss Skydiver, sent off at 11-1 in the field of 11 3-year-olds, was ridden by journeyman Robby Albarado, a late replacement who hasn’t been on the big racing stage for several years.
The key to victory came with a half-mile to go when Albarado, in what trainer Ken McPeek a ”genius move,” piloted the chestnut filly through an opening to the inside of Authentic to grab a narrow advantage that she never relinquished.
The two stars pulled away from the rest of the field, and the race to wire was on. Hall of Famer John Velazquez urged on 3-2 favorite Authentic with a left-handed whip, while Albarado and Swiss Skydiver held strong to pull out the victory.
Swiss Skydiver ($25.40) became the sixth filly to win the Preakness – the first since champion Rachel Alexandra won the classic in 2009.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was seeking a record eighth Preakness victory, and while his two colts – Authentic and Thousand Words — set the early pace, it was the filly purchased for $35,000 who raced patiently behind the leaders until making her winning move.
“I’m just really proud of Robby,’’ said McPeek, who won his first Preakness. “We had to call him into the game at the last minute. He did a great job. Really proud of her, him, owner Peter Callahan. It’s an honor to be around this horse. It’s a great moment.”
Even with no spectators at Pimlico Race Course due to the COVID-19 pandemic health and safety measures, the 145th edition of the Preakness was a doozy.
Jesus’ Team, sent off at 40-1, was third (10 lengths behind Authentic), followed by Art Collector, Max Player, Excession, Mr. Big News, Thousand Words, Ny Traffic, Pneumatic, and Liveyourbeastlife.
Coming into the race, McPeek had considered other options for Swiss Skydiver, who tested the boys in the Blue Grass (G2) and finishing second to Art Collector (who finished fourth in the Preakness). He was thinking of running the filly at Keeneland this weekend, but when Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law was declared out of the Preakness, it helped McPeek make up his mind.
Good call. After the Blue Grass, Swiss Skydiver regrouped and won the Alabama (G1) and ran second in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on Sept. 4 – both against fillies. She was ready for the boys in Baltimore. Tyler Gaffalione was aboard the filly most recently, but committed to riding at Keeneland since McPeek waited until the last minute to decide on which race to enter. So he turned to the 47-year-old Albarado, who had ridden for McPeek in the past and also won the 2007 Preakness aboard Curlin.
“Robby and I had great week. We walked with her together, we had breakfast and lunch together,’’ said McPeek. “It’s a lifetime experience for both of us. And I hope we’ll be back.”
With the racing schedule reconfigured due to COVID-19, the Triple Crown was turned topsy turvy, with the Belmont the first leg rather than the last one, the Derby the second leg, and the Preakness the final leg. And, instead of a three-race in five weeks sprint, this version turned into a 15-week marathon – with three worthy winners – Tiz the Law in the Belmont on June 20, Authentic in the Derby on Sept. 5 and Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness on Saturday.