Nobody in the Delaware Valley was happier or cheering louder than Let’s Go Racing producer Bruce Casella when the brilliant filly Swiss Skydiver won a stretch-long duel against Kentucky Derby winner Authentic in a Preakness to remember.
Casella and the filly’s trainer Kenny McPeek have been friends for 40 years. They went to different colleges, but were fraternity brothers. They used to play one-on-one while dunking on six-foot rims in McPeek’s Lexington, Ky. backyard, aka, McPeekma. Casella was working in those days for Channel 27 in Lexington.
Casella does not remember McPeek ever having any books when he was a student at the University of Kentucky. But he does remember McPeek always carrying a copy of the “Blood Horse.’’ He was always going to be in horse racing.
The two stayed close when McPeek was training horses at Turfway Park and Casella worked there.
A few hours before the McPeek-trained Sarava became the longest-priced winner of the Belmont Stakes in 2002, Casella went to see his friend on the backstretch. McPeek was asleep in his truck.
“I didn’t really want to run here,’’ McPeek told him. “My owner made me do it.’’
McPeek thought long and hard about it, but, in the end, he wanted to run Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness. The great filly proved her trainer’s assessment correct when she hooked up with Authentic at the top of the Pimlico stretch and would not let the Derby winner by.
Swiss Skydiver has now raced nine times in 2020 at nine different tracks. She has basically been running once a month since her season began at Tampa Bay Downs in January. She has also raced at the Fair Grounds, Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita, Keeneland, Saratoga, Churchill Downs and Pimlico.
In her last seven starts, she has won one Grade III stake, two Grade II stakes, two Grade I stakes and finished second in another Grade I and a Grade II.
Now that she has won the Preakness, Swiss Skydiver has to be in the discussion for Horse of the Year so McPeek has another decision to make. The Preakness was a “Win and You’re In’’ for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland.
So does the trainer try the boys again, not just 3-year-olds, but also the best older horses in a race that will almost certainly decide Horse of the Year? We are talking Maximum Security, Improbable, Tom’s d’Etat, as well as Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law and Derby winner Authentic. Any horse with a top record that wins that race has to be Horse of the Year.
Or does McPeek send his filly to the BC Distaff where she will meet some of the best fillies and mares in training? That decision can wait.
The 2020 Preakness, whether in May or October, is forever.
McPeek had 627 text messages of congratulations by the morning after the Preakness.
“Surreal experience,’’ he texted back.
Two years ago, McPeek purchased Swiss Skydiver as a yearling for owner Peter Callahan. She cost just $35,000, another McPeek sales bargain.
It was McPeek who purchased the great Curlin for $57,000. The two-time Horse of the Year won the 2007 Preakness and earned more than $10 million.
So the man knows horses and horse racing. He did not get to train Curlin, but he has been training Swiss Skydiver all along. As McPeek said after the Preakness, she never gets tired. The filly just runs and runs and wins and wins.