Peter Callahan has been a racehorse owner and breeder for over two decades. But, before that, he was a media magnate.
In the 1980s, Callahan was the principal stockholder for the corporation that owned the National Enquirer. You know, the tabloid at the supermarket checkout lane that runs stories about earthlings having encounters with bug-eyed aliens—complete with photos—the latest on Meghan and Harry, and other celebrity news.
With that and the fickle racing business as a background, and at 78 years of age, you’d figure Callahan has seen most everything and was fairly immune to shock. But then a video message came on his phone from Callie, one of his seven grandchildren, on a weekend in November 2018.
Callie was a student at Marist College in New York on your typical semester abroad in Europe. But there was nothing typical about the video that appeared on his phone.
The video was of Callie leaping from a plane peering down over the Swiss Alps. The parachute and the instructor who clutched onto the daring 20-year-old three miles above the safety of the earth didn’t ease his angst.
“I wanted to ring her by the neck,” Callahan recalls now with a laugh.
It turned out to be one of those serendipitous moments that seems pre-ordained. Callahan had just purchased a horse, a chestnut yearling filly by Daredevil (out of Expo Gold by Johannesburg). She had piercing eyes and great conformation, but no name, until…
…Switzerland. Daredevil. Skydiver. Of course! Swiss Skydiver.
Callie was pleased to see a horse kinda named after her. Callahan, whose Gaelic surname has roots in County Cork, has been blessed with the luck of the Irish ever since. Swiss Skydiver has been gathering the “green”—as in dollars—since first trotting onto the racecourse.
Callahan has been involved with good horses before as a breeder. He figures he gets maybe one or two in a decade. In 2009, he bred multiple Grade 1 and graded-stakes winner Palace, a sprinter by speedy City Zip. He and Runnymede Farm co-bred Collected, winner of the Pacific Classic in 2017 and second place finisher in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.
He’s dabbled in ownership with a few racehorses, but he’s never come close to this kind of success.
The filly that would become Swiss Skydiver was purchased at the Keeneland September sale by Ken McPeek for $35,000. That’s no small sum, but seems laughable compared with the $952,980 she has banked so far.
As durable as she is beautiful, Swiss Skydiver already has raced nine times, earning a 5-2-1 record. She began the year with a promising third-place finish in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) at Fairgrounds.
Then she hit her stride. She reeled off consecutive graded wins in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), the Fantasy Stakes (G3) and the Santa Anita Oaks (G2), all around two turns at a distance of 8 1/2 furlongs.
Then came her huge score in the 10-furlong Alabama Stakes (G1) Aug. 15 at Saratoga.
The victory also awarded Swiss Skydiver an automatic fully paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff Nov. 6 at Keeneland.
Swiss Skydiver is considered one of the two best three-year-old fillies in the country and second choice in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks. The other is the favorite Gamine, the leggy daughter of Into Mischief. That Bob Baffert-trained star has ticked off consecutive record-setting Grade 1 performances in the Acorn Stakes at Belmont and the Test Stakes at Saratoga. The much-anticipated matchup will sort who’s the fairest of them all.
The Alabama is run at the same 1 1/4-mile distance as the Kentucky Derby. There was some consideration of both entering in the Derby. When Gamine opted for the Oaks, Callahan and McPeek decided to settle the filly battle instead of going up against Tiz the Law right now.
That meeting may yet come. She’s already run against the boys at 9 furlongs in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland. She finished a tiring two-lengths second to Art Collector. He was a serious Derby contender until his scratch due to a foot injury. She may be primed for another chance come the Oct. 3 Preakness. If all goes according to the oddsmakers, Tiz the Law will be aiming for the Triple Crown in that race.
For now, McPeek is focused on the Oaks. She drew the #1 post on the rail. Gamine, a fast-breaking frontrunner, got Baffert’s wish, drawing #5 in the center of the nine-horse field.
Gamine is known to romp if she gets away. Swiss Skydiver jockey Tyler Gaffalione has an aggressive riding style. He will try to break cleanly and engage Gamine before the first turn around the 1 1/8–mile Churchill circuit.
McPeek is not concerned about the rail position. “I’m just glad I’m not riding her,” says the stout trainer with a chuckle. “The #1 post is the shortest trip,” he reasons. “I just want her #1 at the finish line, too.”
It probably won’t shock Callahan if Swiss Skydiver emerges from the Oaks as the best three-year-old filly in the land.
After all, he’s seen everything.
Kentucky Oaks shocker: Under Florent Geroux, longshot Shedaresthedevil dared Swiss Skydiver and won The 146th Kentucky Oaks with Swiss Skydiver, Gamine, Speech, and Tempers Rising finishing out the top five. The winner paid $32.20, the 7-1 Exacta $59.40 on $1, the 7-1-5 Trifecta $58.40 on .50 and the 7-1-5-4 Superfecta $27.93 on .10