Unlike in turf racing, fillies and mares do not compete against males at the highest level on dirt very often. Whenever the rare entry does occur, it generates a ton of attention and hype for the stakes race in question.
Because watching females run with high-level males on dirt is uncommon, Swiss Skydiver figures to draw many eyes to the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) on Saturday at Saratoga. The nine-furlong race is typically composed of older horses, although it has been won by females before.
On her best day, Swiss Skydiver is capable of beating males and taking the Whitney. But she needs a step forward off her best race this year and bad racing luck for Knicks Go, the fastest horse on paper.
To recap Swiss Skydiver’s season at this point, she began by winning the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita by an easy 2 3/4 lengths with a 122 on TimeformUS.
Swiss Skydiver coasted home under mostly a hand ride.
She received a great groundsaving trip, but the burst of acceleration in the stretch was impressive. Fans forgot the seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff already.
Swiss Skydiver found trouble in her next start when facing the former division leader Monomoy Girl and her successor Letruska in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn. The tactics of jockey Robby Albarado were in question after the race, especially because of the start.
Albarado asked Swiss Skydiver to hustle out of the gate. When Letruska came by their side and aimed for the front, Albarado let them go.
From there, Letruska under Irad Ortiz Jr. played games with Swiss Skydiver.
Letruska crossed over in a manner that made it tight for Swiss Skydiver as they straightened out onto the backside. Before reaching the half-mile, Ortiz also baited Albarado and Swiss Skydiver into going through the rail again, before closing the gap and once again stopping the Preakness champion’s momentum.
Those types of mind games can discourage any horse, no matter if she is a multiple Grade 1 winner. Swiss Skydiver had one more chance on the far turn when the inside became open, but she was empty by mid-stretch. Most likely, the poor trip leading up to that point affected her run.
Therefore, Swiss Skydiver’s distant third-place finish in the Apple Blossom is forgivable. Forget about the 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure as well. Besides the 122 figure in the Beholder Mile, she also hit 127 when winning the Preakness Stakes last October and broke 120 in her three starts leading up to the Preakness.
Ideally, Swiss Skydiver will run a little better than her Preakness run, but matching that career best performance at least gives her a chance.
What needs to happen with the males for Swiss Skydiver to win? Swiss Skydiver can probably beat Maxfield, Silver State and By My Standards with her best race. Those horses are good, but none of them are monsters. Based on speed figures, Swiss Skydiver is in their league.
But Knicks Go runs monster figures when he fires, and it is unclear whether any horse can beat him when he turns in his good race.
In his most recent start, Knicks Go dominated the Cornhusker Handicap (G3) by 10 1/4 lengths with a 136 TimeformUS Speed Figure. The double-digit win at Prairie Meadows came after a puzzling clunker in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1), where he faded to fourth after setting a moderate pace.
Earlier in the year, Knicks Go won the Pegasus World Cup with a 133 on TimeformUS. Trainer Brad Cox sent Knicks Go to the Saudi Cup in February off that great performance. After challenging Charlatan for the lead in the middle of the race, Knicks Go faded to fourth late.
Knicks Go’s romp in the Cornhusker is a good sign that he recovered from his Saudi trip and dusted off the cobwebs after the Met Mile flop. If that is true, then everyone can expect another 130+ on TimeformUS from him.
None of the other males are capable of reaching 130 yet.
Swiss Skydiver might also benefit if one of the other horses attempts to duel with Knicks Go, but the probables list does not show other major speed types. Maybe Swiss Skydiver can catch Knicks Go off guard by gunning for the lead. A surprise strategy might work better than leaving Knicks Go alone up front.
To wrap this up, Swiss Skydiver belongs in the Whitney field and fits into the label of “contender.” But to win, she needs to improve her speed figure while Knicks Go needs to regress. In that favorable scenario, the other males must not improve into the 130 range on TimeformUS either. She also needs a good trip where she can relax into a nice rhythm early, unlike when Letruska gave her trouble at Oaklawn.
If Swiss Skydiver does win, she can join legendary names such as Personal Ensign and Lady’s Secret as females that won the Whitney in their careers. Clearly, the task is not an easy one.