BALTIMORE — Those hanging around the heavily restricted stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course this week joked around that Authentic would stare down filly Swiss Skydiver whenever she walked past.
“He got a good look at her today,” jockey Robby Albarado said.
Swiss Skydiver added one final memorable moment to cap off a topsy-turvy Triple Crown season, beating favoured Authentic by a neck after a stretch duel in the Preakness Stakes run without fans Saturday. She became the sixth filly and first since Rachel Alexandra in 2009 to win the Preakness, which this year served as the third leg of the Triple Crown for the first time.
"She’s just such a special filly," said trainer Kenny McPeek, who won the Preakness for the first time for his second Triple Crown race victory. “Just a real honour to be around a horse like this.”
Jesus’ Team was a distant third at 40-1 and Art Collector fourth at 2-1. The 145th running of the Preakness at a mostly empty Pimlico came four weeks after the Kentucky Derby and 3 1/2 months since the Belmont as they were held out of order for the first time since the 1930s.
At 11-1 odds, Swiss Skydiver pulled off an upset of 3-2 favourite and Kentucky Derby winner Authentic. Albarado made a powerful move around the final turn that would usually come right by revelers in the infield unable to catch a glimpse of the home stretch.
“I had an opportunity,” said Albarado, who won his second Preakness after 2007 aboard Curlin. “I took advantage of the rail. Johnny stayed off the fence there, made a conscious decision to move at that time. Give or take now. If I make that move now or I wait and get smothered.”
McPeek won a Triple Crown race for the first time since the 2002 Belmont with Sarava, which was the biggest upset in the history of that race. Swiss Skydiver was the first filly to run in the Preakness since 2014, when Ria Antonia finished last.
“I didn’t feel that much tension really,” McPeek said. “I felt like we had her well-prepared. Any horse race, things have to go your way. But every day she was happy, she was bright-eyed."
It went Swiss Skydiver's way in part because Authentic’s Hall of Fame jockey, John Velazquez, abandoned the rail, giving Albarado the lane for a near-perfect trip.
“That’s a good filly,” said Authentic and Thousand Words trainer Bob Baffert, who was denied a record-breaking eighth Preakness victory. “He had every chance to get by her. He got beat. He just couldn’t get by her. She dug in. She’s tough.”
Swiss Skydiver avenged her loss in her only other competition against colts, when she finished second to Art Collector in the Blue Grass Stakes on July 11. She since won the Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga on Aug. 15 and finished second in the Kentucky Oaks on Sept. 4.
“She continues to get stronger, and it’s amazing,” McPeek said. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years and you’re around horses and sometimes you run them and they come back tired. She never gets tired. If anything, she makes me tried dragging me around the barn every day.”
Swiss Skydiver ran 1 3/16 miles in 1:53.28 and paid $25.40 to win, $8.40 to place and $5.80 to show.
The Preakness was run with only owners, trainers and essential personnel in attendance, a far cry from the usual mid-May party with patrons in fancy hats and suits in some areas of the track and revelers in shorts and T-shirts in the infield.
Even after cancelling the annual infield concert and festivities, the Maryland Jockey Club and Stronach Group that owns Pimlico hoped back in the spring that moving the race to the fall would allow for the possibility of having fans. Instead, all three Triple Crown races went on without them.
Swiss Skydiver made it so each Triple Crown race in 2020 had a different winner. McPeek said he likely wouldn't have entered her in the Preakness had Belmont winner Tiz the Law run, but trainer Barclay Tagg gave him a rest to point him to the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7.
Swiss Skydiver is a candidate to challenge them in the Breeders' Cup Classic or could face older fillies and mares in the Distaff. McPeek is leaning toward the Distaff but will give it some time to make that decision and enjoy the big victory his horse gave him in the Preakness.
“It looked like Authentic got his head in front a little bit and then she fought right back,” McPeek said. “There’s no guarantees in this game, and I’ve had some tough beats: second in the Derby, been second in a bunch of Breeders’ Cup races, third here in the Preakness years back. But I’m just thrilled she fought on."
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press