Peter Callahan, Owner of 2020 Preakness Champ Swiss Skydiver, Dies at 82

Peter Callahan | Sarah Andrew

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Peter J. Callahan, a magazine publisher and decades-long Thoroughbred owner and breeder who campaigned the 2020 champion 3-year-old filly and GI Preakness S. victress Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil), died May 9 in a New York City hospital in the company of family members. He was 82.

The cause of death was a brain tumor, his daughter, Carolyn Callahan, confirmed to TDN on May 15. A celebration of his life will be planned at a later date, she added.

“Horse racing really was his passion,” Carolyn Callahan said. “He was very practical about how challenging it was to be successful in breeding and racing. He used to joke that he had a really good racehorse only once every 10 years. He had so many health problems over the last several years, but having that Swiss Skydiver experience really just breathed new life into him–it was like a reboot.”

Callahan was especially enamored of Swiss Skydiver because he had named the filly after the exploits of one of his granddaughters, Callie, who was then a 20-year-old college student studying aboard.

Bidding on Callahan's behalf, trainer Kenny McPeek had acquired the Daredevil-sired filly at the 2018 Keeneland September yearling sale for a relatively bargain price of $35,000.

Two months later, Callahan awoke on a Sunday morning to a video massage from Callie showing her jumping out of an airplane strapped to a parachute over the Swiss Alps.

“I thought it was pretty daredevilish of her,” Callahan told the St. Francis College alumni newsletter in 2020. “When I saw Daredevil, I thought, 'That's my granddaughter jumping out of planes.' I said, 'Let's name the Daredevil filly Skydiver.' That was taken, so I added the prefix 'Swiss.' That's the story of Swiss Skydiver.”

Swiss Skydiver became only the sixth filly ever to win the Preakness, doing so in the pandemic-altered 2020 season when the second jewel of the Triple Crown was conducted in October. She also scored that year in the GI Alabama S. at Saratoga and the GI Beholder Mile S. at Santa Anita.

“Just a wonderful man, and very much a father figure to me,” McPeek said via phone from Pimlico on Wednesday. “I had a world of respect for him, and just enjoyed being around him. I was very close to Peter, not only professionally, but also personally. He had struggled with health issues for years, and fought and fought and fought. With Swiss Skydiver, it was really just a great period for all of us, and I'm glad we were able to contribute to him reaching the pinnacle of the sport.”

Callahan was a lifelong New Yorker who spent time in Florida later in life. According to a 2020 profile in The Tablet, a newspaper of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, Callahan was raised in Astoria and attended St. Francis Prep in Williamsburg, where he starred on the football and baseball teams. As a shortstop, he played alongside eventual major-league Hall-of-Famer Joe Torre. Callahan would later honor his alma mater's red-and-blue color scheme on his racing silks.

Callahan went on to continue his baseball career at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights. He then attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Business before embarking on a long career in the publishing and broadcasting industries.

Callahan helmed a variety of consumer and trade publications, including Photoplay, Us and the National Enquirer. For a time, he was part-owner of Daily Racing Form.

Swiss Skydiver | Sarah Andrew

In the mid-1980s, Callahan got a taste of the Thoroughbred world as a part-owner. Over the next four decades, he branched out on his own and in other partnerships, including in racing and bloodstock ventures with the Clay family of Runnymede Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

“In every sense of the word, he was the best partner you could possibly have,” said Brutus Clay III, Runnymede's chief executive officer. “His family has been partners with Runnymede for over 35 years, and he was really instrumental for us as we were moving from one generation to another. Not only was he a good partner, but he was a friend and mentor. He was a shrewd businessman, and had a really uncanny ability to evaluate opportunities and assess them. He applied that same type of rigor to investing in the equine market, which is a challenging thing to do.”

Callahan and Runnymede co-bred Collected (City Zip), who finished second in the 2017 GI Breeders' Cup Classic. Stakes winners raced by Callahan included Bevo (Prospectors Gamble), Beautician (Dehere), Scotus (Successful Appeal) and Fistfite (Two Punch).

Callahan will be represented in Friday's GII Black-Eyed Susan S. at Pimlico by Ringy Dingy (Dialed In), whom he owned in partnership with James Reiley McDonald.

“The Bible says that the trophy doesn't always go to the fastest or the strongest,” Callahan told The Tablet in 2020. “It goes to the competitor with the most amount of persistence. That's certainly true in Thoroughbred racing. You can't be in the game for instant gratification, you've got to wait your turn and pay your dues.”

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