by Jon White
January 7, 2021
Now that it’s 2021, many horseplayers understandably reflect on what occurred on the American racing stage in 2020. With that in mind, I have compiled my list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in the United States last year.
A Thoroughbred’s performance can make this list for a variety of reasons, such as:
--A win by a big margin while showing brilliance.
--Recording a fast final time and/or speed figure.
--Being especially game in victory or defeat.
--Defeating a particularly strong group of opponents.
--Carrying more weight than usual and/or spotting considerable weight.
--Achieving something historic or unusual.
The importance of the race itself also plays a role in determining whether or not I believe a performance deserves to make the list.
And now, drumroll please, here is my list of the Top 10 performances of 2020:
10. IMPROBABLE in Saratoga’s Grade I Whitney Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on dirt Aug. 1. (A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred City Zip colt; owned by WinStar Farm, CHC and SF Racing; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr.)
Improbable was shipped across the country and dominated three of the better older male runners in the country to win by two lengths at odds of 3-1. He defeated the likes of By My Standards (5-1), Tom’s d’Etat (who stumbled at the start as the even-money favorite) and Code of Honor (5-2).
Going into the Whitney, Improbable had lost six in a row when racing outside California. His victorious performance in the Whitney, an important race in New York, cemented his standing as one of the nation’s elite older males.
Improbable completed his Whitney journey in 1:48.65 and received a 106 Beyer Speed Figure. This was part of a three-race winning streak he put together at the Grade I level in 2020.
At Santa Anita Park on June 6, Improbable won the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup by 3 1/4 lengths (105 Beyer). After the Whitney, he registered an emphatic 4 1/2-length win in Santa Anita’s Grade I Awesome Again Stakes on Sept. 26 (a career-best 108 Beyer).
Improbable concluded his 2020 campaign and racing career by finishing second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland on Nov. 7 (a 108 Beyer to equal his career-best figure). He lost the BC Classic to a younger Bob Baffert-trained runner, 3-year-old Authentic. If Improbable had won the BC Classic, he quite likely would have been voted Horse of the Year.
9. TARNAWA in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland at 1 1/2 miles on turf Nov. 7. (A 4-year-old Irish-bred Shamardal filly; owned by The Aga Khan; trained by Dermot Weld; ridden by Colin Keane.)
On the list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in the United States last year, this ranks as the highest on the turf. Ninth with a half-mile to go, Tarnawa rallied to prevail by one length at odds of 9-2. The classy mare Magical finished second, followed by Channel Maker in third.
How well did Tarnawa run in the BC Turf? Her 109 Beyer Speed Figure was better than the 104 Beyer posted by Bricks and Mortar when he won the 2019 edition at Santa Anita. Bricks and Mortar was voted America’s 2019 Horse of the Year.
Tarnawa prevailed by one length while completing 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.02 on a turf course classified as firm.
It was the first Breeders’ Cup win for highly respected 72-year-old Dermot Weld, a two-time winner of the world-famous Melbourne Cup (Vintage Crop in 1993 and Media Puzzle in 2002). Weld is the only European-based trainer to win an American Triple Crown race, having done so with Go and Go in the 1990 Belmont Stakes.
Tarnawa went into the BC Turf having won all three of her 2020 races. After winning a Group III race in Ireland in her first start of the year, she took France’s Group I Prix Vermeille and Group I Prix de l’Opera. Following those performances by Tarnawa, Weld felt that she was the best chance he’d ever had to win a Breeders’ Cup race.
Colin Keane guided Tarnawa to her BC Turf triumph. Keane replaced Christophe Soumillion, who could not ride at the Breeders’ Cup because of a positive coronavirus test.
8. VEKOMA in Belmont Park’s Grade I Carter Handicap at seven furlongs on dirt when the track was sloppy June 6. (A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt; owned by R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables; trained by George Weaver; ridden by Javier Castellano.)
Backed down to 8-5 favoritism, Vekoma had the lead in the opening furlong before deferring to 16-1 American Anthem.
After relinquishing the advantage, Vekoma was content to stalk before retaking the lead turning into the stretch. He then splashed away from his opponents in the stretch to reach the finish 7 1/4 lengths in front.
Noted for his way of moving in which it appears he is paddling with his front legs, Vekoma gave the impression he was swimming home on the wet track. He posted a laudable final time of 1:21.02.
Vekoma received a 110 Beyer Speed Figure, best of his eight-race career. He was the 3-1 morning-line favorite in the Grade I BC Sprint on Nov. 7 despite drawing post 14, but was withdrawn due to reportedly spiking a temperature after arriving at Keeneland from New York. On Nov. 8 it was announced that Vekoma had been retired from racing.
Only two horses recorded a higher Beyer Speed Figure than Vekoma in 2020, a 112 by Volatile in the Aristides Stakes and a 111 by Authentic in the BC Classic, a pair of performances that rank higher on this list.
7. GAMINE in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Keeneland at seven furlongs on dirt Nov. 7. (Owned by Michael L. Petersen; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by John Velazquez.)
Off a bit awkwardly, Gamine sat just off the speedy and classy Serengeti Empress early. After striking the front approaching the eighth pole, Gamine drew off with gusto to win by 6 1/4 lengths as the 11-10 favorite. Her final time of 1:20.20 on a lightning-fast surface smashed Keeneland’s track record of 1:21.32 set by Taris in 2014.
Trainer Bob Baffert has called Gamine a superstar. This is high praise in that it comes from from someone who certainly has the bona fides to know a superstar when he sees one.
Baffert is a two-time Triple Crown winner, having swept the coveted series with Amerian Pharoah and Justify. With 16 wins in Triple Crown events to his credit, Baffert is the all-time leading trainer in that regard, two ahead of second-place D. Wayne Lukas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby six times, Preakness Stakes seven times and Belmont Stakes three times.
Additionally, Baffert has won the BC Classic four times (Bayern, American Pharoah, Arrogate and Authentic).
With her win in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint, Gamine remained undefeated (four for four) in races around one turn.
6. WIN WIN WIN in Saratoga’s Grade I Forego Stakes at seven furlongs on the dirt when the track was sloppy Aug. 29. (A 4-year-old Florida-bred Hat Trick colt; owned by Live Oak Plantation; trained by Michael Trombetta; ridden by Javier Castalleno.)
The instant this race was over, I was sure that this win by Win Win Win would make my list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in the United States for 2020.
The 2020 Forego was contested during a downpour that made seeing the horses a challenge. Win Win Win’s trainer, Michael Trombetta, watched the telecast of the race when unable to see what was happening on the backstretch because it was raining so hard. Win Win Win, No. 7, was last early. When Win Win Win soon dropped so far behind that he disappeared from the screen, Trombetta then watched the 7 chicklet at the bottom of the screen, only the chicklet also soon disappeared.
“He dropped so far back his chicklet number actually went off the screen,” Trombetta said after the race.
The trainer understandably became quite concerned.
“Honesttly, I assumed something bad might have happened where he took a bad step or something,” Trombetta said. “I thought he was absolutely out of the race and might not have had a chance to even finish. But turning for home, he came back on the screen.”
Win Win Win not only reappeared on the screen, he unleashed a furious rally in the final quarter. Racing extremely wide into the stretch, he roared down the lane while in the middle of the track and won by a half-length in 1:21.71.
“Unbelievable,” Trombetta said.
It certainly was.
On Sept. 28 it was announced that Win Win Win had been retired from racing due to a tendon injury.
For some, Win Win Win’s Forego rally brought to mind the most famous stretch runner of them all, Silky Sullivan.
Win Win Win was as far back as 16 lengths in the Forego before coming on with a rush to win by a half-length at odds of 7-1.
In an incredible performance captured for posterity on film by Joe Burnham (the only person to receive an Eclipse Award for cinematography), Silky Sullivan came from much farther behind than 16 lengths to win a 6 1/2-furlong allowance sprint at Santa Anita on Feb. 25, 1958. Riding the handsome 3-year-old colt for the first time in a race that day was the legendary Bill Shoemaker, whose agent was Harry Silbert. Reggie Cornell trained Silky Sullivan.
“I was sitting with Reggie in his box that day,” Silbert told me in an interview I did with him for a story about Silky Sullivan that I wrote for the May 1982 edition of the Thoroughbred of California magazine. “Reggie had told Bill that it was very important not to rush the colt.
“Well, Silky Sullivan dropped so far behind early you couldn’t believe it. I’m telling you, he was a sixteenth of a mile behind the next-to-last horse. I didn’t think he had a prayer, so I put my binoculars down. Reggie looked over at me and said, ‘I told him not to rush the colt, but this is ridiculous!’
“Just then, I picked up my binoculars again, and Silky started his move. And he won! For him to win from that far back was…well…unbelievable. I’ve even seen the film of that race several times since, and each time I still can’t believe he makes up that much ground.”
Silky Sullivan won by a half-length after being 41 lengths behind early. That’s not a typo. If you look at his lifetime past performances, you will see that 41 lengths was how many lengths off the early pace he was in that remarkable 1958 triumph, which you can watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT_YxcoDhtY
When I talked to Shoemaker about that win from 41 lengths behind, this was what he said: “Going down the backstretch, I didn’t think he had a chance to even finish in the money. I must’ve been 25 lengths behind the next-to-last horse. I honestly didn’t think he’d beat a horse that day, but then, really, it was kind of a mediocre field. Anyway, he won. Even I was surprised.”
5. VOLATILE in Churchill Downs’ Aristides Stakes at six furlongs on dirt June 6. (Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds III and Three Chimneys Farm; trained by Steve Asmussen; ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr.)
Making his stakes debut, Volatile raced a close-up third early, took over at the top of the stretch and poured it on in the lane to win by eight lengths as a 1-2 favorite. He completed six furlongs in a scorching 1:07.57, which was just .02 of a second off the track record set by Indian Chant in 2007.
“He’s just a tremendous talent,” Asmussen said of Volatile after the Aristides.
Volatile recorded a 112 Beyer Speed Figure. This was the highest Beyer of 2020.
In his next start, Volatile won Saratoga’s Grade I, seven-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths on July 25. That would be his final race. On Sept. 21 it was announced that Volatile had been retired from racing due to a hairline fracture of his right front cannon bone.
4. TIZ THE LAW in Saratoga’s Grade I Travers Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on dirt Aug. 8. (A 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Constitution colt; owned by Sackatoga Stable; trained by Barclay Tagg; ridden by Manny Franco.)
In my view, this was the finest performance of Tiz the Law’s nine-race career. After the Travers, he finished second as the 7-10 favorite in the Grade I Kentucky Derby (won by Authentic), then ran sixth in the Grade I BC Classic (also won by Authentic).
On Dec. 30 it was announced that Tiz the Law has been retired from racing. Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stables, told Ray Paulick of the Paulick Report that exercise rider Robin Smullen, assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg, “sensed something wasn’t right” after she took Tiz the Law out for a routine gallop on the morning of Dec. 29 at Palm Meadows training center in Florida. Tiz the Law had been scheduled to have a Jan. 3 workout in preparation for the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 23.
“I got the call from Barclay that I always dread,” Knowlton said. “Our vet took X-rays and found there was significant bone bruising in the lower part of the cannon bone in a front leg. We had another vet take a look at it and both said the same thing: ‘You really don’t have any choice [other than to retire him].’ I’m really thankful that Robin caught it when she did.”
Tiz the Law won the Travers with authority by 5 1/2 lengths as the 1-2 favorite. His final time was an excellent 2:00.95 in hundredths, or 2:00 4/5 in fifths. These are the five-fastest editions of the Travers in fifths:
Time Horse (Year)
1:59 1/5 Arrogate (2016)
2:00 flat General Assembly (1979)
2:00 1/5 Honest Pleasure (1976)
2:00 4/5 Tiz the Law (2020)
2:00 4/5 Easy Goer (1989)
Tiz the Law was credited with a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure for his Travers victory. It was the second-highest Beyer by a 3-year-old going farther the one mile in 2020, exceeded only by Authentic’s 111 in the BC Classic.
Since Bernardini registered a 116 Beyer Speed Figure when victorious in the 2006 Travers, only one Travers winner has recorded a higher Beyer than Tiz the Law’s 109. Arrogate ran a monstrous 122 Beyer when he won the 2016 renewal by 13 1/2 lengths in 1:59.36, or 1:59 1/5 in fifths, to obliterate Saratoga’s 1 1/4-mile track record by four-fifths of a second set by General Assembly in 1979.
Below are the Beyers for the Travers winners going back to 1990 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which now can be purchased in a digital format):
2020 Tiz the Law (109)
2019 Code of Honor (105)
2018 Catholic Boy (104)
2017 West Coast (108)
2016 Arrogate (122)
2015 Keen Ice (106)
2014 V.E. Day (102)
2013 Will Take Charge (107)
2012 Alpha (100)*
2012 Golden Ticket (100)*
2011 Stay Thirsty (101)
2010 Afleet Express (105)
2009 Summer Bird (110)
2008 Colonel John (106)
2007 Street Sense (108)
2006 Bernardini (116)
2005 Flower Alley (110)
2004 Birdstone (108)
2003 Ten Most Wanted (112)
2002 Medaglia d’Oro (113)
2001 Point Given (117)
2000 Unshaded (109)
1999 Lemon Drop Kid (110)
1998 Coronado’s Quest (107)
1997 Deputy Commander (110)
1996 Will’s Way (114)
1995 Thunder Gulch (110)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Sea Hero (109)
1992 Thunder Rumble (109)
1991 Corporate Report (109)
1990 Rhythm (104)
3. AUTHENTIC in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland at 1 1/4 miles on dirt Nov. 7. (A 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt; owned by Spendthrift Farm, MyRacehorse.com Stable, Madaket Stables and Starlight Racing; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by John Velazquez.)
What was at stake in this race has a lot to do with why it ranks this high. It appeared there was a good chance it would determine who would be the 2020 Horse of the Year. In all likelihood, this is going to be the case. On the strength of Authentic’s Grade I victories in the Kentucky Derby and BC Classic, along with a third Grade I win in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, he is an overwhelming favorite to be elected 2020 Horse of the Year.
Improbable finished a solid second in the BC Classic as the 7-2 second choice in the wagering. Global Campaign came in third at 25-1, one length behind Improbable. Rounding out the finish, in order, were Tacitus, Maximum Security, Tiz the Law, Title Ready, By My Standards, Tom’s d’Etat and Higher Power.
In retrospect, Authentic’s adversaries made a huge tactical error when permitting him to set an uncontested pace. To his credit, Authentic’s natural early zip allowed him to have such an ideal trip. But one can only imagine that when the dust settled, some of the connections of the other nine BC Classic starters were wondering, “Where is a rabbit when you need one?”
It does not take an Einstein to see what might well happen in the BC Classic once Authentic was allowed to bowl along comfortably on the front end, furlong after furlong. In his seven 2020 starts, he won every time he led at the first call and lost both times he didn’t.
Authentic won the BC Classic, America’s richest race with a purse of $6 million, by a clear-cut 2 1/4 lengths. He was sent away at 4-1.
It seemed that on the two occasions in which it really mattered, Authentic found a way to get the job done. When the 3-year-old male title quite possibly was on the line in the Run for the Roses, Authentic came through. Similarly, when the Horse of the Year crown quite possibly was on the line in the BC Classic, Authentic again came through.
Authentic’s final time was 1:59.19. Or was it? Once again Thoroughbred racing embarrassed itself in terms of the timing of its races.
There initially were no fractional times listed in Equibase’s BC Classic chart. The final time was listed as 1:59 (1:59.19). In the chart’s comments, it said: “Due to a timer malfunction, the times were timed manually using video.”
Many questioned the official final time of 1:59.19. Even the Trakus system used by Keeneland disagreed with the 1:59.19 clocking. The Trakus system timed the race in 1:59.82.
And then yet another clocking, 1:59.60, became the official final time for the 2020 BC Classic.
Keeneland and Equibase issued the following statement on Nov. 11:
“Prior to the running of the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (Gr. 1) on November 7, 2020, at Keeneland, a photo eye at the start of the race originally was tripped, which resulted in an error when attempting to operate the timing system manually causing inaccurate timing for all fractions and the final time of the race. A final time of 1:59.19 was initially provided by Equibase using the available video replay. After subsequent and more detailed review and timing of the race from multiple sources and camera angles, Keeneland and Equibase have determined the fractional times for the Classic (:23.20, :46.48, 1:10.32, 1:34.64) and confirmed a final time of 1:59.60. The Classic chart has been updated and the running of Authentic in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic is now the official track record for the 1 1/4-mile distance at Keeneland.”
Acccording to Keeneland and Equibase, Authentic broke American Pharoah’s track record of 2:00.07, which had been established by the Triple Crown winner when he registered a 6 1/2-length victory in the 2015 BC Classic.
It took Keeneland and Equibase four days to finally come up with fractional times and a final time for this year’s BC Classic (a race ironically sponsored by a company that makes watches).
“This is ridiculous. This is embarrassing. This is inexcusable,” I wrote for Xpressbet.com after the BC Classic. “Humans can control a rover 48 million miles away on Mars, but seemingly can’t time the 2020 BC Classic without problems.”
The timing problem with the 2020 BC Classic was not an isolated case. Timing problems were rampant all over the country in 2020, primarily due to a number of tracks embracing a GPS technology that produced questionable times.
Andrew Beyer was one of those who doubted the authenticity of Authentic’s original 1:59.19 clocking, just as Beyer did not believe it when he saw 1:55 on the board for Secretariat’s final time at the 1973 Preakness. Due to an electronic malfunction, the official final time for the 1973 Preakness became 1:54 2/5, which was the time that Pimlico clocker E.T. McClean had on his watch.
But Beyer and many others felt the final time of 1:54 2/5 still was too slow. This skepticism proved to be justified, first by two DRF clockers who timed Secretariat in 1:53 2/5, then later by modern technology that proved Secretariat’s final time actually had been 1:53.
Beyer’s skepticism of the original final time of 1:59.19 in this year’s BC Classic also proved to be justified when Keeneland and Equibase announced that the original official clocking of 1:59.19 had been changed to 1:59.60.
The difference between 1:59.19 (1:59 flat in fifths) and 1:59.60 (1:59 3/5 in fifths) is significant. To use the longstanding rule of thumb that a fifth of a second equals one length, the difference in the two clockings is two lengths. That’s a lot.
As for Authentic’s Beyer Speed Figure for his BC Classic triumph, he originally was credited with a 109. It was then upped to a 111. The 111 ranked as the second-highest Beyer Speed Figure of 2020.
What was American Pharoah’s Beyer Speed Figure for his victory in the 2015 BC Classic at Keeneland when his final time of 2:00.07 was supposedly slower than Authentic’s 1:59.60? American Pharoah received a 120 Beyer for that performance, a figure considerably higher than Authentic’s 111 for his win in the 2020 BC Classic.
2. GAMINE in Belmont Park’s Grade I Acorn Stakes at one mile on dirt June 20. (A 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief filly; owned by Michael L. Petersen; trained by Bob Baffert; ridden by John Velazquez.)
This scintillating performance deserved a 10 on a “wow scale” of 1 to 10. I came very close to ranking it No. 1 for 2020.
Breaking from the inside post, Gamine dashed immediately to the front. She flaunted her speed while setting fractions of :22.48, :45.28 and 1:09.33. Gamine proceeded to run up the score on her rivals in the stretch and won in isolated grandeur by 18 3/4 lengths as the 3-5 favorite.
Gamine’s margin of victory was the largest in the history of the Acorn, a race that was first run in 1931. Her final time of 1:32.55 was a stakes record and just .31 of a second off the 17-year-old track record owned by Najran. Putting Gamine’s 1:32.55 clocking into further context, it was faster than Mitole’s final time of 1:32.75 when he won the 2019 Met Mile on that same track.
The stakes record for the Acorn once was held by Ruffian. She won the 1975 renewal of the Acorn by 8 1/2 lengths in 1:34.40.
I consider Ruffian to be the greatest female Thoroughbred of all time. Her only loss in 11 career starts came when she was unable to finish in her 1975 match race against Foolish Pleasure. In Ruffian’s 10 victories, she tied or broke a stakes or track record in all but one of them.
Gamine recorded a 110 Beyer Speed Figure for her Acorn win. The only two higher Beyers in 2020 were Volatile’s 112 and Authentic’s 111.
Andrew Beyer, father of the Beyer Speed Figures, went so far as to call Gamine’s Acorn a “great” performance.
1. SWISS SKYDIVER in Pimlico’s Grade I Preakness Stakes at 1 3 1/16 miles on dirt Oct. 3. (A 3-year-old Kentucky-bred Daredevil filly; owned by Peter Callahan; trained by Ken McPeek; ridden by Robby Albarado.)
I wrote the following for Xpressbet.com after the 2020 Preakness:
“The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked considerable havoc throughout the world this year. But in a year in which it seems there have been so many more lowlights than highlights, a ferocious equine tussle all the way down the stretch in the 145th Preakness Stakes became a welcome diversion for Thoroughbred racing fans during these troubled times.
“The resolute and durable filly Swiss Skydiver and Kentucky Derby winner Authentic put on a terrific show last Saturday that no doubt will be long remembered.
“It was a race that for many conjured up memories of the goosebumps-producing stretch battle between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in the 1989 Preakness. Sunday Silence eked out a nose victory on that occasion in what is widely considered one of the greatest races in the long history of the Triple Crown.
“In terms of memorable Triple Crown battles, last Saturday’s battle royale between Swiss Skydiver and Authentic also brought to mind for some the furious stretch duel between the filly Rags to Riches and the outstanding colt Curlin in the 2007 Belmont Stakes. Despite stumbling at the start, Rags to Riches won by a desperate head. (When in the heck are Hall of Fame voters going to get it right and elect Rags to Riches to the Hall of Fame?)
“Another aspect to this year’s Preakness, which wrapped up a coronavirus-related revamped Triple Crown series, was the marvelous ride by Robby Albarado on Swiss Skydiver.
“Swiss Skydiver exited the starting gate alertly. In fact, she broke first, then settled nicely two to three lengths off the lead through the early furlongs.
“For whatever reason, Thousand Words and Authentic dueled for the early lead. This came as something of a surprise to many. That’s because Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains them both. Authentic did open about a 1 1/2-length lead for a brief time on the backstretch when Thousand Words began dropping back.
“Approaching the far turn, Swiss Skydiver made an early move. She came through between Thousand Words and Art Collector, then continued on willingly along the inside rail to take on Authentic. It was rather nervy of Albarado to allow the filly to make such an early run rather than remain in a stalking position. No doubt Albarado would have left himself open for being bashed (particularly in the Twitter-verse) for moving too soon if the filly had lost.
“Albarado once was deemed good enough to be the regular rider of Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year. They collaborated to win the 2007 Preakness. But Albarado had fallen out of favor in recent years. That made his Preakness ride on Swiss Skydiver all the more laudable in that he rode the race as if he had ice water in his veins.
“How much had Albarado fallen out of favor? Mainly through lack of opportunities, he had not won a Grade I race since 2017 until this year’s Preakness. He also had not won a single graded stakes race this year until the Preakness.
“When Swiss Skydiver poked her head in front with about four furlongs to go, Authentic by no means threw in the towel. These two raced side-by-side for the remaining half-mile. But during that entire time, Swiss Skydiver was able to maintain a slight lead in an exhibition of supreme bulldog tenacity. Authentic kept trying and trying for every step of the final four furlongs, but he just could never quite get his nose back in front.
“Swiss Skydiver won by a neck. As for Authentic, for him to run as well as he did, only to come away with a loss, was a huge disappointment for his connections. Baffert had hoped to see Authentic in charge early rather than vying for the lead with, of all horses, Thousand Words.”
Baffert did have praise for Swiss Skydiver.
“That’s a good filly,” Baffert said. Authentic “had every chance to get by her. He got beat. He just couldn’t get by her. She dug in. She’s tough.”
It was a big gap from the embattled pair of Swiss Skydiver and Authentic all the way back to Jesus’ Team, who finished third at odds of 40-1 in the field of 11. Jesus’ Team ended up 10 lengths behind Swiss Skydiver.
Authentic was sent away as the 3-2 Preakness favorite. Swiss Skydiver did not get much respect from the bettors, going off at 11-1.
The fractions were :24.48, :47.65, 1:11.24 and 1:34.74. The quarters were run in :24.48, :23.17, :23.59 and :23.50, with a final three-sixteenths in :18.54.
Swiss Skydiver completed her 1 3/16-mile journey in 1:53.28, or 1:53 1/5 in fifths. The 1:53 1/5 clocking ranks as the second-fastest clocking ever registered by a Preakness winner.
Mighty Secretariat holds the record for the fastest final time by a Preakness winner. After making an electrifying move from last to first on the clubhouse turn, he won the 1973 renewal in 1:53 flat.
These are the 13 fastest final times in the history of the Preakness:
1:53 flat Secretariat (1973)
1:53 1/5 Swiss Skydiver (2020)
1:53 2/5 Curlin (2007)
1:53 2/5 Louis Quatorze (1996)
1:53 2/5 Tank’s Prospect (1985)
1:53 3/5 Summer Squall (1990)
1:53 3/5 Gate Dancer (1984)
1:53 4/5 Sunday Silence (1989)
1:54 flat Hansel (1991)
1:54 flat Canonero II (1971)
1:54 1/5 War of Will (2019)
1:54 1/5 Codex (1980)
1:54 1/5 Spectacular Bid (1979)
Prior to the Preakness, Swiss Skydiver’s top Beyer Speed Figure had been the 102 she recorded when she won Saratoga’s Grade I Alabama Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths on Aug. 15. She was credited with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure for her Preakness performance.
While Swiss Skydiver ran the second-fastest Preakness ever at 1 3/16 miles, the fact that her 105 Beyer Speed Figure is lower than so many other winners of the race obviously stemmed from the Beyer Speed Figure team’s determination that Pimlico’s main track was much faster than normal.
Below are the Beyer Speed Figures for Preakness winners going back to 1991 (the figures prior to 2020 are listed in the American Racing Manual, which is now digital only):
2020 Swiss Skydiver (105)
2019 War of Will (99)
2018 Justify (97)
2017 Cloud Computing (102)
2016 Exaggerator (101)
2015 American Pharoah (102)
2014 California Chrome (105)
2013 Oxbow (106)
2012 I’ll Have Another (109)
2011 Shackleford (104)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (102)
2009 Rachel Alexandra (108)
2008 Big Brown (100)
2007 Curlin (111)
2006 Bernardini (113)
2005 Afleet Alex (112)
2004 Smarty Jones (118)
2003 Funny Cide (114)
2002 War Emblem (109)
2001 Point Given (111)
2000 Red Bullet (109)
1999 Charismatic (107)
1998 Real Quiet (111)
1997 Silver Charm (118)
1996 Louis Quatorze (112)
1995 Timber Country (106)
1994 Tabasco Cat (112)
1993 Prairie Bayou (98)
1992 Pine Bluff (104)
1991 Hansel (117)
Swiss Skydiver became the first filly to win a Triple Crown race since Rachel Alexandra captured the 2009 Preakness.
Six fillies now have won the Preakness: Flocarline (1903), Whimsical (1906), Rhine Maiden (1915), Nellie Morse (1924), Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Swiss Skydiver (2020).
Swiss Skydiver not only beat the boys in the Preakness, she defeated the likely 2020 Horse of the Year in Authentic. This win by Swiss Skydiver occupies the top spot on my list of the best performances by a Thoroughbred in this country during 2020.
2020 Swiss Skydiver in the Grade I Preakness Stakes
2019 City of Light in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup
2018 Justify in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2017 Gun Runner in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic
2016 Arrogate in the Grade I Travers Stakes
2015 American Pharoah in the Grade I Belmont Stakes
2014 Wise Dan in the Grade II Bernard Baruch Handicap
2013 Dreaming of Julia in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks
2012 I’ll Have Another in the Grade I Preakness
2011 Animal Kingdom in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2010 Blame in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic
2009 Zenyatta in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic
2008 Big Brown in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2007 Rags to Riches in the Grade I Belmont Stakes
2006 Barbaro in the Grade I Kentucky Derby
2005 Afleet Alex in the Grade I Preakness Stakes
2004 Ghostzapper in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic