Swiss Skydiver edges Authentic in Preakness Stakes thriller

Washington (AFP) –

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Swiss Skydiver held off Authentic in a thrilling finish Saturday, becoming just the sixth filly to win the Preakness Stakes in a dramatic end to a topsy-turvy Triple Crown year.

Trained by Kenny McPeek and ridden by Robby Albarado, Swiss Skydiver edged to the lead as they headed into the final turn, then held off a fierce challenge from Kentucky Derby winner Authentic, whose trainer Bob Baffert was denied a record eighth Preakness win.

"She's just such a special filly," McPeek said of the determined chestnut filly that romped to victory in the Alabama Stakes before running second in the Kentucky Oaks.

He said he knew some questioned his decision to put Swiss Skydiver up against the colts in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.

But she justified his faith, becoming the first filly since Rachel Alexandra in 2009 -- and just the second female since 1924.

She was the first filly to run in the Preakness since Ria Antonia finished last in 2014.

"She continues to get stronger and it's amazing," McPeek said. "I've been doing this for 35 years and you're around horses and sometimes you run them and they come back tired.

"She never gets tired. If anything, she makes me tired dragging me around the barn every day."

The Baffert-trained Thousand Words and Authentic, ridden By Johnny Velazquez, dueled for the lead early, but Albarado slipped Swiss Skydiver past them as they were turning for home.

"I had an opportunity," Albarado said. "I took advantage of the rail. Johnny stayed off the fence there, made a conscious decision to move at that time. Give or take now. If I make that move now or I wait and get smothered."

Swiss Skydiver, who went off at odds of 11-1, held her ground as the two thundered away from the rest of the field down the stretch, finally getting her nose across the wire first.

Jesus' Team, a 40-1 longshot trained by Jose D'Angelo and ridden by Jevian Toledo, was a distant third.

Pimlico, which usually features a raucous crowd of 100,000, was virtually empty, with just owners, trainers and workers in attendance amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 had already turned the Triple Crown, which normally starts with the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, upside down with the Belmont Stakes opening the action on June 20 and the Kentucky Derby held in September.

Belmont winner Tiz the Law, pipped by Authentic in the Kentucky Derby, opted out of the Preakness in preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Baffert was vying to become the first trainer to win the Preakness. He currently shares the record with 19th-century trainer R. Wyndham Walden.

Baffert's most recent Preakness win remains Justify's 2018 triumph on the way to the Triple Crown.