It takes a certain kind of personality to enter a filly against the boys in a leg of the Triple Crown, and Kenny McPeek showed all of that personality on Wednesday's TDN Writers' Room podcast presented by Keeneland. Calling in via Zoom as the Green Group Guest of the Week, McPeek talked about his successful, outside-the-box campaign of Peter Callahan's GI Preakness S. winner Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil), why he subbed in Robby Albarado to ride the chestnut, his approach to training 2-year-olds and much more.
Swiss Skydiver has run nine times this year, starting her campaign Jan. 18 at Tampa. Winning five of those starts, she beat 22 of 23 males combined in her two attempts against them and raced at nine different tracks. Already a top contender for champion 3-year-old filly, Saturday's scintillating and game Preakness victory over GI Kentucky Derby hero Authentic (Into Mischief) has vaulted Swiss Skydiver into a wide-open Horse of the Year discussion, and McPeek was asked what he thinks she has to do to earn that trophy.
“She needs to run well in the Breeders' Cup,” he said. “We haven't decided where we're going to run yet [Classic or Distaff]. We've still got some analyzing to do of who's going to be out there and possible starters, but she's run all year. If they call it Horse of the Year, she ran all year, so what else can you do? I think it'd be fitting, but she's just really solid and that's more credit to her than it is me. She kept telling us she wanted to go and the schedule really lined up well for us over the course of the year. And the fact that she ran East Coast, West Coast, North, South, Midwest, she's entertained the racing world all year, all over the country.”
In addition to bouncing around to different venues, Swiss Skydiver has been ridden by six different jockeys through this campaign, with Albarado taking the reins for the first time in the Preakness. McPeek aired his frustrations as to why Tyler Gaffalione didn't take the call.
“I announced that we're going to run in the Preakness and Tyler was on board,” he said. “By maybe 6:00 that night, his agent tells us that he can't ride. And I'm like, 'Look, you've given us a two-race commitment [GI Kentucky Oaks and Preakness].' He said, 'Oh well, sorry, I've got to ride for Chad Brown at Keeneland.' I said, 'You can't do this. It's dishonorable.' I've been doing this for 35 years and I've never had something like that happen. I still find it dishonorable. Shame on Tyler Gaffalione and his agent. So all the riders in New York were taken, most of the Keeneland riders were taken, and Robby Albarado had been breezing horses for me on a regular basis. I called him and said, 'Robby, here's the deal, I'm going to tell Peter Callahan you're going down to Baltimore, Rob is filling in for the Preakness.' He says, 'All right, I'm ready.' It gives me goosebumps thinking that we pulled it off. Sometimes you've got to take a negative and turn it into a positive. Robby needed the break and he was hungry. He knows what to do, and he deserves to ride more horses than he's been riding. And I think he pretty well proved it. Put him on a big stage and he can handle it.”
Also touched on in the wide-ranging interview were McPeek's GI Darley Alcibiades romper Simply Ravishing (Laoban), why he stepped away from training in the mid-2000s and why making video and data more accessible is the improvement he sees as most necessary to change racing's fortunes.
Elsewhere on the show, the writers recapped and analyzed the rest of the action from a monster weekend of stakes across the globe and, in the West Point Thoroughbreds news segment, discussed how the demise of Calder is the latest in a troubling trend of Churchill-owned tracks shutting down. Click here to watch the podcast; click here for the audio-only version.