Overlooked at 16-1 in Friday’s $400,000 Fantasy (G3), Swiss Skydiver proved the market all wrong by toppling 9-10 favorite Venetian Harbor at Oaklawn Park. The Ken McPeek filly added 100 more Kentucky Oaks (G1) points to her account and widened her margin at the top of the leaderboard with 210 in all.
Swiss Skydiver was coming off a prior 100-point tally in the March 28 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), but bettors were unimpressed because of how she managed it. The Peter J. Callahan colorbearer unexpectedly set the pace that day, got away with slow splits, and kicked clear at 9-1.
That scenario was not in the cards here, with brilliant Las Virgenes (G2) romper Venetian Harbor the most prominent of the pace players. But Swiss Skydiver answered the critics by engineering a stalk-and-pounce trip with Brian Hernandez.
Venetian Harbor sped to the front through fractions of :22.25, :45.43, and 1:09.67. Swiss Skydiver, second in the early going, drew closer down the backstretch until just a half-length off the leader at the 6-furlong split. Venetian Harbor had let the competition come near in the Las Virgenes too, only to dust them entering the stretch. Her supporters could have entertained the same thought as they swung for home in the Fantasy.
But Swiss Skydiver was too good to shake off. While Venetian Harbor kept digging in gamely on the inside, Swiss Skydiver bore down relentlessly and subdued the favorite. Pulling 2 1/2 lengths clear at the wire, the daughter of Daredevil clocked 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.00.
The other Daredevil filly, Shedaresthedevil, closed for third but 10 3/4 lengths behind Venetian Harbor. Alta’s Award, who had chased Shedaresthedevil home in the Honeybee (G3), solidified the form in fourth. The second through fourth earned Oaks points on a 40-20-10 basis, upping Venetian Harbor’s total to 50, Shedaresthedevil’s to 70, and Alta’s Award’s to 30 points.
Fire Coral did well to snatch fifth after being badly hampered early and relegated to last. Next came Lazy Daisy; Lake Avenue and Ring Leader in a dead heat for seventh; Ice Princess; last year’s champion 2-year-old filly British Idiom, a non-threatening 10th; Harvey’s Lil Goil; Kansas Kis; New York Groove; and the tailed-off Lady Glamour.
Swiss Skydiver has bankrolled $437,980 from her 6-3-1-1 line. Victorious on debut and second in an allowance at Churchill Downs last fall, the chestnut resumed with a closing fifth in the Gasparilla at Tampa Bay Downs. She made her two-turn debut in the Rachel Alexandra (G2), placing third to Finite and British Idiom, but has progressed since to turn her graded double.
Bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky, Swiss Skydiver was a $35,000 bargain buy by McPeek as a Keeneland September yearling. Her dam, the Johannesburg mare Expo Gold, is also responsible for stakes-placed Miss Hot Legs.
Quotes from Oaklawn Park
Winning trainer Ken McPeek: “She’s very tactical. We had a hard time getting a two-turn race for her as a 2-year-old. We ran her short three times. When we finally got to run her longer, she’s been as good as it gets.
“There really aren’t a lot of options out there right now. I think they will reschedule the Ashland (G1) so it sets up for the Oaks. It would be a pretty good year to win the Gulfstream Park Oaks, the Fantasy, the Ashland and the Kentucky Oaks. I’m just thrilled for Peter Callahan. We’ve been in a slump for three or four years and now he has a really special one. We’re enjoying this.”
Winning jockey Brian Hernandez: “We had the perfect trip. The filly broke good and she put herself in a good spot. We had the favorite in front of us the whole way, but going around the second turn, she really got within herself and traveled nicely. Turning for home, I had confidence in her because I just asked her for the next gear and she went on and put the big favorite away and did it with authority. Turning for home, I looked over and thought I had a little more horse than (Venetian Harbor). When I got her to switch leads she jumped off and really picked it up nicely.”
Trainer Richard Baltas on runner-up Venetian Harbor: “She ran good. I think she just got tired the last sixteenth. Can’t take anything away from the winner. I was sitting next to Kenny McPeek and he told me the filly was training out of her mind. I thought my filly was good, obviously, was 4-5. I really don’t have any excuses.”
Venetian Harbor’s rider, Flavien Prat: “She had a good trip. The winner came to us at the quarter pole and for a second I thought I could hold on, but she got tired the last sixteenth.”
Jockey Joel Rosario on third-placer Shedaresthedevil: “She ran well. Had it a little tough going into the first turn. Down the backstretch, I tried to follow the leaders. I wish she had been a little closer. She came running the last part. She was finishing at the end.”
Trainer Brad Cox on Shedaresthedevil: “Shedaresthedevil’s run was really good. It looked like she was maybe in tight down on the inside and maybe had to start her run maybe a little bit later than need be, but I really don’t think it cost her a placing.
Cox on champion British Idiom’s lackluster 10th: “Disappointed. Didn’t really take the jock there much. He asked her to run up the backside. She made a middle move up the backside and looks like she leveled off. Watching the race, it didn’t take too much to figure out at the quarter pole that there was a race between two horses and we didn’t have either one of them.”