Albarado Returns to Oaklawn with Swiss Skydiver

A lot has changed since jockey Robby Albarado was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1996 and 1997, particularly lately.

Oaklawn, as part of a multi-million expansion, is opening a seven-story, 200-room hotel overlooking the first turn. Albarado, who is back in Hot Springs as the regular rider of champion Swiss Skydiver in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn, was a guest of the hotel Wednesday night.

“I stayed in the hotel last night and was trying to think what was here,” Albarado said after galloping Swiss Skydiver Thursday morning at Oaklawn. “What was in this actual spot, where this hotel is? That’s where the old gap was. I was trying to envision where the (track) kitchen was exactly. I can remember (trainer James Eckrosh) parking in that one spot and hitting the fence every day. He backed into the fence or hit the fence every day, turning in. But you know what? There’s only one thing that’s constant in life – change.”

After his career began to nosedive several years ago, Albarado’s fortunes began to change when he picked up the mount on the well-traveled Swiss Skydiver for last October’s Preakness, which was the third leg of the revamped Triple Crown and a race the jockey won in 2007 with eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. Facing males, notably another future Horse of the Year in Authentic, Swiss Skydiver beat the Kentucky Derby winner by a neck in a stirring stretch duel.

Coupled with earlier victories in the $500,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) at Gulfstream Park, $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita and $400,00 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn, Swiss Skydiver was named the country’s champion 3-year-old filly.

Swiss Skydiver opened her 2021 campaign with a sharp 2 ¾-length victory in the $300,000 Beholder Mile Stakes (G1) March 13 at Santa Anita and now gets a rematch with two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl in the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom. Monomoy Girl won their only meeting – $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland – as Swiss Skydiver finished seventh after stumbling badly at the start. Monomoy Girl was the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2018 and champion older dirt female of 2020.

“When you get to this point in my career, I live for these kind of races,” Albarado said. “You’ve got to be tactical, you’ve got to be ready. I did an interview with a guy from Texas, a reporter. He asked me how I felt. I told him I stayed prepared for these kind of situations. When your named is called, be ready. I was ready for the Preakness. I was prepared for it. I hadn’t ridden that level of horse in a couple of years. I didn’t think about anything else going on but that race and how tactically I was going to do it. Had three or four scenarios in my mind – if this does that, I’m going to do this. Getting on her all week, like I’m doing here and did in California, she goes around the track a couple of days and figures out where she’s at. That’s big with her. Like in the Preakness, she knew where she was, the track, the surroundings, the poles. She hooked a Horse of the Year and put him away.”

Swiss Skydiver, who is trained by Kenny McPeek, arrived Wednesday afternoon and galloped over a muddy surface after the second renovation break Thursday morning. Swiss Skydiver has recorded three workouts since the Beholder, including a 5-furlong move in 1:00.40 April 10 at Churchill Downs.

“It’s scary,” Albarado said. “She might be better than last year. She’s doing so good right now.”

The Apple Blossom headlines Saturday’s 12-race card, with probable post time 6:09 p.m. (Central). It goes as the 11th race. First post Saturday is 12:02 p.m.

The projected six-horse Apple Blossom field from the rail out: Another Broad, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 115 pounds, 10-1 on the morning line; Swiss Skydiver, Robby Albarado, 122, 2-1; Letruska, Irad Ortiz Jr., 118, 4-1; Chance to Shine, Ken Tohill, 114, 20-1; Getridofwhatailesu, Francisco Arrieta, 117, 6-1; and Monomoy Girl, Florent Geroux, 124, even money.

Albarado has more than 5,000 victories in his career, with his mounts earning roughly $221 million in purse money. In addition to Curlin and Swiss Skydiver, Albarado was the regular of 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft. Albarado has 272 career victories at Oaklawn.

Fearless Forecast

Lightly raced Fearless hasn’t been able to string together consecutive victories since winning his first two career starts in late 2019 and early 2020 at Gulfstream Park.

Fearless can change that in the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn for trainer Todd Pletcher and co-owners WinStar Farm and CHC Inc.

A 5-year-old gelded son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, Fearless will be making just his eighth lifetime start in the Oaklawn Handicap. He exits a three-quarter length victory in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Mile Stakes (G2) Feb. 27 at Gulfstream Park under Irad Ortiz Jr., who is named to ride Saturday. Fearless earned a career-high 99 Beyer Speed Figure in the Gulfstream Park Mile.

“He’s a very big horse and it just took a little while to kind of get things together,” Pletcher said Wednesday afternoon. “He had a pretty steady campaign last year. Decided to give him a little freshening over the fall. He’s a gelding, so we were looking at the long picture. He’s come back well from the layoff and we’re excited about giving him a try in here.”

The Gulfstream Park Mile marked the first start for Fearless since a sixth-place finish in the $500,000 Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) June 27 at Churchill Downs. The first two finishers, Tom’s d’Etat and By My Standards, were exiting stakes victories at the 2020 Oaklawn meet – $150,000 Oaklawn Mile and $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2), respectively. By My Standards returned to win last Saturday’s $400,000 Oaklawn Mile. Fearless was nominated to this year’s Oaklawn Mile, but Pletcher opted to start the south-Florida based gelding in the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap.

“We looked at it,” Pletcher said of the Oaklawn Mile. “We thought they were both compelling races. Felt like the mile and an eighth was probably a little better for him, even though he was successful last time at a one-turn mile. We felt like with that race under his belt, the extra eighth of a mile would help. Of course, a $1 million purse is very enticing.”

The projected eight-horse Oaklawn Handicap field from the rail out: Silver State, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 118 pounds, 4-1 on the morning line; Express Train, Juan Hernandez, 122, 5-2; Fearless, Irad Ortiz Jr., 119, 7-2; Warrior’s Charge, Elvin Gonzalez, 118, 6-1; Guest Suite, Francisco Arrieta, 115, 15-1; Owendale, Florent Geroux, 119, 7-2; Rated R Superstar, Ramon Vazquez, 116, 10-1; and Silver Prospector, David Cabrera, 116, 10-1.

Pletcher won the Oaklawn Handicap in 2007 with Lawyer Ron, who would be named the country’s champion older male that year, and again in 2015 with Race Day. Pletcher has 25 career Oaklawn victories, with 21 coming in stakes races. He has 18 graded stakes victories. Fearless was a $725,000 purchase at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Probable post time for the Oaklawn Handicap, which goes as the ninth of 12 races, is 4:49 p.m. (Central).

Finish Lines

Arkansas Derby runner-up Caddo River returned to the track Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs, trainer Brad Cox said, adding, “We’re preparing to run in the Kentucky Derby.” Caddo River would mark the first Kentucky Derby starter for his breeder/owner, John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, since Prairie Bayou finished second as the favorite 1993. … Through Sunday, Day 39 of Oaklawn’s 51-day meeting, 388 claims had totaled $6,905,000. … Sky Judge ($13) represented the 2,500th career North American victory for jockey Orlando Mojica in Wednesday’s seventh race at Indiana Grand, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Mojica, before moving his tack, had reached 2,499 career victories after winning eight races this year at Oaklawn. Indiana Grand opened Tuesday.