Not even one of the most exciting Preakness finishes in memory prevented a 48.7% drop in betting handle from 2019’s record figure, according to Equibase.

2020 Preakness Finish
Swiss Skydiver (back) got her head in front of 3/2 favorite Authentic to win a Preakness Stakes stretch duel for the ages. (Image: Nick Wass/AP Photo)

Pimlico’s 12-race Preakness handle checked in at $51,252,631, a nearly 50% drop from last year’s $99,852,653 record handle. That 2019 handle came on a 14-race card.

It also nearly mirrored the Kentucky Derby’s 49.8% handle drop. June’s Belmont Stakes endured a 33.7% handle drop from its 2019 record for a non-Triple Crown deciding year.

In the Preakness’ case, the usual mid-May second jewel of the Triple Crown moved to the first Saturday in October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There, it ran headlong into football, pandemic-created economic woes, and a spectator-free, empty Pimlico devoid of its usual 100,000-120,000 fans.

Swiss Skydiver Drops Into History

This deprived a live audience of seeing one of the great Preaknesses this century. It deprived a live audience of seeing Swiss Skydiver become only the sixth filly in 145 years to win the Preakness. And it deprived that audience of seeing one of the great riding feats in a Triple Crown race.

That came from Swiss Skydiver’s jockey, Robby Albarado. With Thousand Words stealing the lead from his Bob Baffert stablemate and expected pace-setter, Authentic, Swiss Skydiver stalked the pace just before the far turn, with Authentic, Pneumatic, and Art Collector keeping her company.

At this point, Thousand Words and Pneumatic checked out. They’d finish eighth and 10th, respectively. Art Collector, the 2/1 second favorite fell back into his eventual fourth-place finish. But 3/2 favorite Authentic wasn’t going anywhere. John Velazquez sent him forward, taking a brief lead coming to the five-eighths post. That’s when Albarado cut inside of Authentic and seized the rail.

“I had an opportunity, a split second, to take advantage of the rail because Johnny was sitting off the fence there,” Albarado told Pimlico’s notes team. “I made a conscious decision on the backside. ‘It’s give-or-take now. Do I make that move now or do I wait to see if they come back to me?’ She’s been doing extremely well. Kenny’s been doing a great job. I’ve been around her all week. I figure she knows where she’s at, she’s in her surroundings. I said let me try and make this Jerry Bailey move and win.”

Seizing the Rail Made All the Difference in the 2020 Preakness

That latter reference comes back to retired Hall of Fame jockey and NBC commentator Jerry Bailey, who was known for his audacity putting horses through pinholes. This pinhole gave Swiss Skydiver a ground-saving trip that seized the inside ground.

But it didn’t shake Authentic, who surged forward to engage Swiss Skydiver in a stretch duel for the ages. In a stretch drive reminiscent of Authentic’s Kentucky Derby duel with Tiz the Law, the pair pulled away from the pack. Only this time, Authentic found himself in Tiz the Law’s Derby role. Every time he pressed, Swiss Skydiver pushed back harder.

At 11/1, Swiss Skydiver held on for a neck victory that paid $25.40, $8.40, and $5.80. Her 1 3/16-mile time of 1:53.28 was the second-fastest time in Preakness history, trailing only Secretariat’s 1973 clocking of 1:53.00. With that, Swiss Skydiver not only joins the iconic Secretariat as a Preakness winner, she becomes only the second filly this century – and the third since World War I – to win the Preakness.

Breeders’ Cup Decisions, Decisions Forthcoming

Rachel Alexandra in 2009 broke an 85-year filly drought. Before her, Nellie Morse in 1924 was the last Preakness filly champion.

This presents Swiss Skydiver’s connections with an enviable decision. They already have a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, courtesy of Swiss Skydiver’s Alabama Stakes victory last month. Now, they’ve punched their ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, courtesy of this victory. Should they decide on the latter – the Breeders’ Cup’s marquee event – they’ll send Swiss Skydiver against the boys for the third time in 2020.

Authentic was a more-than-game second, paying $3.60 and $3.20, and completing a $75.60 $2 exacta. It was nearly 10 lengths back to 40/1 Jesus’ Team and his $12.60 show payoff in third. That filled a $602.85 trifecta payout on a 50-cent ticket. Art Collector filled a $5,053 superfecta payout on a $1 ticket.

“He got beat. He had the whole stretch to get by her,” Baffert said about Authentic. “She ran a gallant race. He’s a free-running horse and likes to be on the lead. I saw he wasn’t on the lead and was struggling a little bit … We had to get the lead. He runs better on the lead. He likes to be out there running fast.”

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