Somehow, the Swiss Skydiver Stakes Tour bypassed Belmont Park. Somehow, the Champion 3-Year-Old Filly missed the biggest racing sandbox of them all – Big Sandy.
How did a filly who won six graded stakes races over five racetracks miss America’s largest racetrack, Belmont Park? An oversight? Well, it’s an oversight trainer Kenny McPeek will rectify this weekend when Swiss Skydiver headlines a stellar field in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps.
The $500,000 Ogden Phipps is one of eight Grade 1 stakes on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes undercard. It sends its six older fillies and mares – who own a combined 21 graded stakes wins — 1 1/16 miles around Belmont Park’s massive, sweeping track. And like all of the Grade 1s on Belmont Park’s Saturday slate, there’s a lot of talent to be found.
That starts with Swiss Skydiver, making her 15th career start. The 4-year-old daughter of Daredevil won graded stakes at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita Park, Oaklawn Park, Pimlico, and Saratoga. And that was just in 2020, because Swiss Skydiver opened her 4-year-old campaign adding the Grade 1 Beholder Mile at Santa Anita to her account.
Swiss Skydiver finds familiar foes
That was graded stakes win No. 6 and career win No. 7. Swiss Skydiver came into April’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn geared for No. 8, but McPeek said a hind leg infection may have taken her out of her game. She finished a distant third, 6 ½ lengths behind Letruska and Monomoy Girl.
“It didn’t appear to be a big deal going into Oaklawn, but it might have been why she ran a little flat that day,” McPeek told the New York Racing Association’s Ryan Martin. “She’s trained like a beast going into this race. So, we’re lining up with her again. She’s obviously a great filly.”
McPeek said the reason Swiss Skydiver finally comes into Belmont Park is timing. The Ogden Phipps, which doubles as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge race for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, comes at the perfect time. It’s a Grade 1 race on a big stage, which – as we’ve seen — McPeek relishes for his star pupil.
“The Grade 1 status and the timing for this race was ideal. We could have waited it out for the (Grade 2) Fleur de Lis (June 26 at Churchill Downs), but we wanted to run here,” McPeek said.
Letruska broke out in a big way
Given what happened in the Apple Blossom, it’s a happy accident that Letruska’s connections wanted to run here too. The last time we saw the daughter of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, she was beating Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver in that Apple Blossom.
That neck victory gave Letruska her field-best 13th career win and her first American Grade 1. It also gave her a career-defining win over two reigning Eclipse Award winners. Monomoy Girl won the Eclipse for Champion Older Mare.
“The first question I had was if she could fit with those kind of mares, and she showed in that race that she could. She ran like a champion,” trainer Fausto Gutierrez said.
Shedaresthedevil beat Swiss Skydiver and Letruska
If those two don’t provide enough cachet, let’s throw in Shedaresthedevil. Given Swiss Skydiver’s memorable Preakness Stakes victory over eventual Horse of the Year Authentic, you probably forgot that Shedaresthedevil beat Swiss Skydiver by 1 ½ lengths in the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. And it probably escaped you that Shedaresthedevil set the event record for the nine furlongs: 1:48.20.
You probably also missed Shedaresthedevil’s gate-to-wire, head victory over Letruska in the Grade 3 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn in March. From there, Shedaresthedevil made it five victories in six races when she beat five graded stakes winners in the Grade 1 La Troienne on April 30.
“Off the bench, she’s 2-for-2 and was able to beat some really good horses,” trainer Brad Cox said. “She was able to keep her head in front of Letruska in her first start as a 4-year-old. She’s a big, beautiful filly and I think she’s moved forward from 3 to 4.”
There’s also a fourth Grade 1 winner in this field. That’s Valiance, who captured the Grade 1 Spinster at Keeneland last fall. That came a month before the Todd Pletcher trainee finished second to Monomoy Girl at the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, which is McPeek’s end goal for 2021. Especially after Swiss Skydiver finished a woeful seventh. That disappointed not only McPeek and owner Peter Callahan, but race fans angling for an epic filly/mare duel between two of racing’s biggest stars of any gender.
They should get that in this Ogden Phipps.
“She is pretty amazing, there’s no question,” McPeek said about Swiss Skydiver. “She doesn’t have many quirks and she loves her routine. She’s a very happy filly. She loves to eat, train, and has been a pleasure for the people around her. I just hope it lasts a couple more years. She’s very low maintenance.”