America, for some reason, has never really embraced the idea of fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings and entire horses or the boys or whatever else anyone wants to call those male equine life forms.
While it is commonplace around most of the thoroughbred world, it is simply not done in the U.S. of A. At least not routinely.
So it never fails to amaze when one would dare to cross the threshold of racing’s virtual tree house. The one that has said “no girls allowed” for generations of habit-formed horsemen. Sorry. Horsepeople.
But every once in a while there comes a filly that the racing establishment practically begs to break the gender barrier. One that fans will follow with their hearts. And bettors with their money.
Such is the case this weekend with Swiss Skydiver.
For only the second time ever, a filly will race in the Blue Grass Stakes. In early foreign betting Swiss Skydiver (9-4 global, 3-1 morning line) is already the favorite to win the $600,000 Grade 2 race at Keeneland that will qualify the winner for the Kentucky Derby. The race starts Saturday at 5:30 p.m. EDT.
After Swiss Skydiver was drawn into post 7 for Saturday’s two-turn, 1⅛-mile run against 11 colts and a gelding, her trainer Kenny McPeek said, “It seems to be pretty wide open.”
That was just one reason that led him to take on the likes of Art Collector (5-2, 5-1), the early second choice coming off his Beyer Speed Figure of 100 in an allowance victory last month, the most recent of his three consecutive victories.
“She gets a bit of a weight break in the Blue Grass,” McPeek said. “She gets weight from all these colts.”
It is not just that Swiss Skydiver will carry 118 pounds, including Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, compared with 123 for each of the males. She actually drops six pounds from her gate-to-wire victory last month in the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks. Art Collector, drawn into gate 3, goes up from 118 to 123. McPeek looks at that as an 11-pound swing to his side. It may not be as dramatic a change, but Basin (9-1, 8-1) also adds weight – one pound – from his distant second-place finish to Charlatan two months ago in his division of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.
McPeek also said that the nine furlongs of the Blue Grass would suit Swiss Skydiver more than the 8½ of the $400,000 Grade 1 Ashland, Saturday’s undercard race for 3-year-old fillies.
“I’ve got another filly (Envoutante) in the Ashland that we’re fond of,” McPeek said. “I hate running against each other if I can help it.”
It is not as if Swiss Skydiver needs the qualifying points from the Ashland. With her three consecutive victories, all in graded preps, she has qualified for the Kentucky Oaks at least three times over. The goal now is to get her qualified for the Kentucky Derby, too. A win Saturday would do just that and give McPeek and owner Peter Callahan some choices come Labor Day weekend.
“We did Triple Crown nominate her,” McPeek said. “It’ll be exciting.”
The only other time a filly has started the Blue Grass was in 1944, when Ashland winner Harriet Sue finished fifth. Because of World War II restrictions, that running of the race was held 70 miles west at Churchill Downs. According to Keeneland’s media department, the only other time that a filly was entered for the Blue Grass was 1948, when Bewitch was scratched a mere 29 years before she was voted into the Hall of Fame.
It has to be a heady time for Team Swiss Skydiver. Just 3½ months ago the filly sired by Daredevil was still just a maiden winner that lost her graded-stakes debut by 6½ lengths. She has since paid off for her faithful bettors at 9-1 in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks and 16-1 in the Grade 3 Fantasy before she was an odds-on winner in the Santa Anita Oaks.
It is way too soon to suggest that she is the next Zenyatta or Genuine Risk or Winning Colors. But those champions did not reach the Hall of Fame overnight. Whether Swiss Skydiver joins them depends a lot on what happens in the next eight weeks. And crashing the boys club this weekend would be a significant step in the right direction.
Racing notes and opinions
For a major Kentucky Derby prep, the Blue Grass surprisingly lacks legitimate early pace. While it would not shock me to see Swiss Skydiver show the way, I actually think Shivaree (11-1, 8-1) will do so – and not loosely. Swiss Skydiver and Rushie (15-2, 5-1) will not let him too far away. I actually do not believe in any of those three; in fact I believe Swiss Skydiver has overachieved against fillies. (That statement could make me loud wrong.) All this may work in the favor of stalkers like Basin and Rushie (15-2, 5-1). But Basin has lost his three 2020 races by an average of six lengths, and a wide draw works against Rushie (15-2, 5-1). The thought here is that Ron Moquett’s two-time Arkansas state-bred stakes winner Man In The Can (9-1, 10-1), drawn into post 5, will be poised to make the first run in the stretch with jockey Tyler Gaffalione and get the victory. He is my across-the-board play.
Whether Gamine and Charlatan will keep their May 2 Oaklawn Park victories will be decided by Arkansas stewards next week. That is what a state government spokesman told the Daily Racing Form about the two horses trained by Bob Baffert. Split samples confirmed that they had tested positive for trace amounts of Lidocaine, a legal medication within limits. Baffert’s Kentucky lawyer Craig Robertson said that the two horses “were unknowingly, innocently exposed to Lidocaine by one of Bob’s employees (presumably assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes). He wore a Salon Pas patch (that) contains small amounts of Lidocaine. It is believed that Lidocaine from that patch was innocently transferred from the employee’s hands to the horses through the application of tongue ties.” Whether stewards believe that explanation will go a long way toward determining their verdict. While Gamine’s win in her allowance race may not mean much, Charlatan’s victory in his division of the Arkansas Derby could be voided. That would promote Basin to first place and give him the points he needs to get into the Kentucky Derby, regardless of what he does in the Blue Grass.
Although he said that he “can and will do better,” disgraced horse owner and bloodstock dealer Tom VanMeter stopped short of apologizing for his racist rant on Facebook last weekend. “I was wrong and am disgusted by my actions,” he wrote in a media statement. VanMeter used the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club account to post bigoted language that led to his censure by such organizations as the Jockey Club, which suspended him, to Keeneland, which banned him from future races and sales.
It is a safe bet that there will be far less alcohol consumed at the Del Mar summer opener this year than ever before. With spectators locked out because of the coronavirus, the meet starts Friday with 87 horses entered into 10 races. In the feature, stakes winners Hit The Road (7-2 morning line) and El Tigre Terrible (4-1) figure to be short-priced for the $100,000 Oceanside, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-olds. If another stakes winner – the deep closer Kanderel (12-1) – is anywhere close to his morning line, he will carry a hard-to-resist overlay. The first post time Friday is 5 p.m. EDT with the Oceanside scheduled for 9:05 p.m.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. This weekend’s Blue Grass Stakes is the focus of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. Legendary sports gambler Hank Goldberg and Art Collector’s trainer Tommy Drury are the guests. South Point race and sportsbook director Chris Andrews handicaps this weekend’s big races. The RFRP is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.