By Richard Rosenblatt
The filly is in, Pletcher is out, and the first Preakness (G1) contender has arrived at Pimlico Race Course.
Let Preakness Week begin, or as many prefer to say, ‘Hi ho Pimlico.’
Swiss Skydiver, who has taken on the boys once before and finished second in the Blue Grass (G2), will try again in the Preakness on Saturday (Oct. 3).
After several days of waiting to see who would and wouldn’t run, trainer Kenny McPeek made the call to give Swiss Skydiver a chance to become the sixth filly to win the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, and first since Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
“I know she will make the distance without any problem . I think she will like that racetrack,’’ said McPeek on Sunday. “ Of course, she has raced everywhere. Whatever racetrack she has raced over she has handled great. It was a tough call between racing against straight 3-year-olds or older fillies and mares or turf, which was briefly thought about. I think she will handle it fine.”
The decision came after, first, Belmont Stakes (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Tiz the Law was declared out of the Preakness, and second, after Todd Pletcher decided to pass on the Preakness with both Dr Post and Happy Saver.
Jesus’ Team, one of two supplemental entries to what looks to be a field of 11 or 12, arrived at Old Hilltop from New York. A son of Tapiture, Jesus’ Team ran third in the Jim Dandy (G3) at the Spa on Sept. 5, behind winner Mystic Guide and Liveyourbeastlife (also a supplemental entry to the Preakness).
“It’s very exciting. I’m very nervous, too,” said trainer Jose D’Angelo. “I have only one-year training in USA. It’s the best race of my life. It’s a great chance to show the abilities of the horse. I think we’re going to have a great race in the Preakness.”
While the field will be determined at the post-position draw on Monday at noon ET, there’ one huge piece of business remaining – Derby winner Authentic and expected Preakness favorite has a Monday morning workout scheduled at Churchill Downs.
“As long as Authentic works good, both horses will ship to Maryland on Tuesday,” said Baffert, the other horse being Thousand Words, who worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at Churchill on Saturday.
As of Sunday, the field shapes up like this (with trainer and jockey):
Authentic (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez); Art Collector (Tommy Drury, Brian Hernandez, Jr.); Country Grammer (Chad Brown, Victor Carrasco); Excession (Steve Asmussen, Sheldon Russell); Jesus’ Team (Jose D’Angelo, Jevian Toledo); Liveyourbeastlife (Jorge Abreu, Trevor McCarthy); Max Player (Asmussen, Paco Lopez); Mr. Big News (Bret Calhoun. Gabriel Saez); Pneumatic (Asmussen, Joe Bravo); Swiss Skydiver (Ken McPeek, Robby Albarado); and Thousand Words (Baffert, Florent Geroux).
Ny Traffic, the Haskell (G1) runner-up to Authentic and eighth-place finisher in the Derby, could join the field as well. The Saffie Joseph, Jr.-trained colt worked 4 furlongs in 48.00 seconds at Churchill on Sunday.
“Most likely he’s going to go, but tomorrow (Monday) we’ll make the decision,” said Joseph. “We were very happy with the work.”
Swiss Skydiver, who won the Alabama (G1) and was second in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) in her previous two races (against fillies), would become the 55th filly to run in the Preakness.
In this year of the coronavirus pandemic, the Triple Crown races were reshuffled, with the Belmont the first leg on June 20, the Derby the second on Sept. 5, and the Preakness the final leg. As with the first two races, no spectators will attend in the Preakness, and strict health and safety measures will be taken for the employees, jockeys, trainers and owners, and other essential personnel who will be at the track.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.