By Jim Freer
Thoroughbred owner Peter Callahan is having the ride of his racing life this year, and it is coming on the winged-like hooves of his three-year old filly Swiss Skydiver.
The daughter of Daredevil has won four graded stakes races, at four different tracks.
The next stop, and possibly the climactic one, will be this Friday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. Callahan and seven of his family members will be there to root on Swiss Skydiver in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (Grade 1). She will be one of the favorites along with Gamine, trained by Bob Baffert, in a nine-horse field.
It is shaping up as a classic showdown between Gamine, a lead-at-every-call style horse, and Swiss Skydiver, a horse that has won gate-to-wire and by stalking an early leader.
The Kentucky Oaks is the 12th race on Churchill's Friday card. Post time is 5:45 p.m. Eastern, with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network cable channel.
Swiss Skydiver, trained by Ken McPeek, comes into the 1 1/8 mile Oaks with wins in four straight graded stakes for fillies this year.
The first was on March 28 in the 1 1/16 mile Gulfstream Park Oaks (Grade 2) at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
The daughter of Daredevil also finished second in the Blue Grass(Grade 2) at Keeneland in Lexington Ky., as the only filly in a 13-horse field.
The only drawback for Callahan is that due to COVID-19 restrictions he was only able to attend one of Swiss Skydiver's races.
That was the 1 1/4 mile Alabama at Saratoga on Aug,15. Swiss Skydiver won by 3 1/2 lengths over Bonny South, who is not in the Kentucky Oaks.
Tyler Gaffalione rode Swiss Skydiver in the Alabama and will have the mount again on Friday.
"This (Swiss Skydiver) is the most exciting thing I've had in racing," said Callahan, who has been an owner and breeder since the mid 1990s.
He has owned three other stakes race and has had horses hit the board in numerous other stakes races.
Prior to the Alabama, he watched Swiss Skydiver's 2020 races on TV or on the Internet.
"It's great that we're going, even with all the changes they've had to make," he said. "I don't know whether I'll have this chance again."
This will be Callahan's second trip to the Kentucky Oaks, both with McPeek. In 2010, they finished fourth with Beautician.
It will be the ninth Kentucky Oaks for McPeek. His best finishes have been second with Take Charge Lady in 2002 and with Daddys Lil Darling in 2017.
Callahan, who is 76, is a retired publishing industry executive who lives in Palm Beach Gardens Fla.
From 1989 through 1999 he was the chairman, CEO and principal shareholder of American Media. That company's holdings included the National Enquirer.
The biggest changes for this year's Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby are the postponement from the first weekend in May to the first weekend in September and the decision to not allow spectators.
Owners are not in part of the spectators ban. But their accommodations at the track have been scaled down.
Callahan and other owners of Oaks horses will have tables for eight in one of the luxury suites.
Callahan will have seven family members with him.
"The original Swiss Skydiver will be there," he said.
That is his granddaughter Callie Rasnake.
Late in the fall of 2018, he was looking for a name for a filly that he spent $35,000 to buy with McPeek's guidance at the Keeneland September sale.
He wanted a name that connected to her sire Daredevil.
He found it in a Sunday morning text message with a photo from Rasnake, a college student who was spending a semester in Europe.
This year, for Callahan, the same can be said of the Kentucky Oaks.