By Jim Freer
Late in the fall of 2018 veteran thoroughbred owner Peter Callahan was looking for a name for a just-acquired filly that was headed into training with Ken McPeek.
Callahan, who lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., wanted a name that connected with the filly’s sire Daredevil.
He found it in a Sunday morning text with a photo from his college student granddaughter Callie Rasnake, who was spending a semester in Europe.
It said “here I am skydiving in the Swiss Alps.”
It took just seconds for Callahan to decide “That’s the name – Swiss Skydiver.”
Just under two years later, the horse Swiss Skydiver is flying on the track and will undoubtedly be the favorite this Saturday in the $500,000 Alabama Stakes (Grade 1) at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The Alabama is 1 1/4 miles on dirt for 3-YO fillies. It is the day’s ninth race at Saratoga with scheduled post of 5:43 p.m.
The Weather Channel forecast is for temperatures in the mid 80s and just a 5 percent chance of rain. The track is listed as Fast—the same condition as in all the races in Swiss Skydiver’s recent hot streak.
Barring an injury of other mishap, Swiss Skydiver will next be headed to the Kentucky Oaks (Grade 1) at 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 4.
Swiss Skydiver comes into the Alabama following a stretch of three wins in four starts–all in major stakes and at four different tracks.
It began with a victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks
(Grade 2) at Gulfstream on March 28. Swiss Skydiver followed that up by winning the Fantasy Stakes (Grade 3) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., on May 1 and the Santa Anita Oaks (Grade 2) at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif., on June 6.
All three races were 1 1/16 miles on dirt.
Swiss Skydiver led at every call in the Gulfstream Park Oaks and Santa Anita Oaks. In the Fantasy she raced in second place behind Venetian Harbor before taking the lead in the stretch and pulling away to beat that rival by 2 1/2 lengths.
The victories gave Swiss Skydiver enough qualifying points to assure a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, which can have a maximum field of 14 horses.
McPeek then decided to see if Swiss Skydiver might also be able to qualify for the Kentucky Derby (Grade 1) to be run on Sept. 5.
He entered her in the Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 2) at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on July 11.
Swiss Skydiver was the only filly in the 13-horse field. She finished second by 3 1/2 lengths to Art Collector, who will be one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby.
Swiss Skydiver came in 4 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Rushie.
The second-place finish gave Swiss Skydiver 40 Kentucky Derby qualifying points–which probably would be enough to get into the 20-horse field for that race.
However, McPeek and Callahan have decided to keep Swiss Skydiver on the Kentucky Oaks trail.
In the Alabama, Swiss Skydiver has post five in seven-horse field.
Tyler Gafffalione has the mount.
In her three wins this year Swiss Skydiver was ridden by Paco Lopez, Brian Hernandez Jr. and Mike Smith.
Smith had the mount in the Blue Grass.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Saratoga is not allowing “ship in” jockeys this summer.
So McPeek turned to Gaffalione, a Saratoga rider who is among his favorites.
Gaffalione rode Swiss Skydiver in her first two races — a win and second-place finish at Churchill Downs last November.
Swiss Skydiver is the Alabama even-money favorite, and could go off at lower odds.
Others in the Alabama, listed by post positions with morning line odds n parentheses are:
1 — Envoutante (8-1)– trained by McPeek for Walking L Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm. Jose Ortiz will ride. Has a closings style. Finished third in the 1 1/16 mile Ashland (Grade 1) at Keeneland on July 11.
2 – Spice is Nice (3-1)– John Velazquez will ride for Todd Pletcher. Seeking first stakes win. Finished fifth in Gulfstream Park Oaks,
3 – Crystal Ball (9-2) — Speedster trained by Bob Baffert, with Javier Castellano riding. Finished second in Coaching Club American Oaks (Grade 2) at Saratoga on July 18. Look for her to take the early lead, with Swiss Skydiver tracking her.
4 — Bonny South (8-1) — Trained by Brad Cox with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding her. Won Fair Grounds Oaks at 1 1/16 miles. Finished fourth in Ashland. Look for her be gaining in stretch, but not winning.
6 — Harvey’s Lil Gal (10-1) — Junior Alvarado rides for Bill Mott. Finished 11th in Fantasy. Later won Regret (Grade 3) at 1 1/8 miles on turf at Churchill Downs. Another closer.
7 — Fire Coral (30-1) — Ricardo Santana Jr. rides for Steve Asmussen. Has never hit the board in a stakes race.