One of the ways Kenny McPeek made his bones as a trainer was to never doubt himself or his charges. This explains one reason why he plans on running star filly Swiss Skydiver in the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga.
“Someone brought up the word ‘can’t’ to me the other day,” he told OG News on Thursday morning. “If I listened to everyone who told me I can’t do something, I wouldn’t have had Sarava win the (2002) Belmont. I wouldn’t have Golden Ticket win the (2012) Travers. And I wouldn’t have Swiss Skydiver win the Preakness.”
Well, that pesky “can’t” word is another reason Swiss Skydiver will tangle with the boys for the third time in her illustrious career. McPeek can’t run Swiss Skydiver in Sunday’s Grade 3 Shuvee Stakes as he planned because his Barn 86 at Saratoga is under quarantine until Aug. 1, at the earliest, after one unnamed filly came down with the potently contagious Equine Herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1).
“It’s a timing thing. There’s nowhere else to run her,” he said. “She’s running great right now. She’s run against the boys twice before and she’s done very well … She did everything she could do against the fillies last year: winning the Santa Anita Oaks, winning the Gulfstream Park Oaks, winning Oaklawn’s version of the Oaks (the Fantasy Stakes).”
McPeek looking four moves down the chessboard
So, count the 4-year-old daughter of Daredevil in the Whitney, one of the country’s top events for older horses. The Aug. 7 race at Saratoga comes with a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the winner. And McPeek is already looking down the line to that Nov. 6 event at Del Mar.
McPeek said the Whitney will give him a good barometer for the rest of the season. He said if Swiss Skydiver runs well there, the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga is the logical next stop. A good trip there and McPeek said the Jockey Club Gold Cup – once again, against the boys – could loom after that. Ironically, the Grade 3 Shuvee Swiss Skydiver has to miss is named after a mare who won back-to-back Jockey Club Gold Cups in 1970 and ’71.
“Then, possibly the (Breeders’ Cup) Classic. That would shake thing up,” he said.
Personal Ensign last filly to win the Whitney
Before we put the trophy cart ahead of the horse, let’s return to the Whitney. Six fillies captured the Whitney, starting with Black Maria in 1926 and ending with Personal Ensign in 1988. The 1 1/8-mile Whitney is right in Swiss Skydiver’s distance wheelhouse. She’s won races at distances from seven furlongs (her maiden debut) to 10 furlongs (the Alabama Stakes).
That, of course, counts Swiss Skydiver’s 1 3/16-mile Preakness triumph last October, where she ran the fastest time of any horse not named Secretariat in the 145-year history of the event. That was one of two races against colts last year. In the first, she finished a game second to Art Collector in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
This year, Swiss Skydiver is 1-for-2. She won the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita Park in March, then finished third in the Apple Blossom Handicap to Letruska and Monomoy Girl the following month at Oaklawn Park. She’s had two workouts in July: a 52.5-second breeze on July 10 and a bullet 48.4-second workout on July 3. Both came at four furlongs.
McPeek turns Whitney into one of biggest races of the year
Putting Swiss Skydiver in this year’s Whitney does more than “shake things up”; it makes the Whitney a must-watch race. That’s because waiting for the Champion 3-Year-Old Filly are the likes of Maxfield, Silver State and Knicks Go – North America’s top three older dirt horses.
“There are some nice colts in the Whitney” McPeek said.
And while McPeek said he’s not a true out-of-the-box trainer, he never ducks a challenge or an opportunity to let his stars shine. This is what horse racing needs.