Swiss Skydiver to Run Lasix Free in Apple Blossom

Five horses are scheduled to run for a $1 million purse in the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn. The sixth entrant will be running for a little bit more.

Champion Swiss Skydiver can collect a $60,000 bonus for the winning the Apple Blossom because she won’t be treated with Lasix. Oaklawn’s Lasix-free Bonus Program provides a 10 percent bonus to the winner’s share of the purse, amounts that range from $1,620 for its minimum purse ($27,000) to a whopping $60,000 for $1 million races like the Apple Blossom or Saturday’s Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses. If the fields remain intact, the winner’s share for both races is $600,000.

Trained by Kenny McPeek, Swiss Skydiver made her first 12 career starts on Lasix before removing the anti-bleeder medication for her last race, a 2 ¾-length victory in the $300,000 Beholder Mile Stakes (G1) March 13 at Santa Anita. Lasix is now prohibited for most stakes races in California.

“She doesn’t need it,” McPeek said. “She’s never really needed it. We took her off Lasix for her last start because she’s going to be running the rest of the year without it, anyway.”

McPeek’s stance isn’t surprising, considering his history with Oaklawn’s Lasix-free Bonus Program, which was announced in September 2014 and implemented during the 2015 meeting.

When McPeek had a division of horses at Oaklawn in 2015-2018, he took some off Lasix to chase the bonus and has five Lasix-free winners overall to rank tied for second in program history. Will VanMeter, who quit training last fall, has a record nine Lasix-free winners since Oaklawn’s program was implemented.

Among McPeek’s Lasix-free winners is Eskimo Kisses, who captured an entry-level allowance race by 11 ½ lengths at the 2018 Oaklawn meeting in her first start off the anti-bleeder medication. She received a $4,740 bonus. Eskimo Kisses, on Lasix, won the historic $600,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies later that year at Saratoga.

Both McPeek and VanMeter have trained for prominent Hot Springs breeder/owner John Ed Anthony, who is a staunch hay, oats and water advocate. Anthony leads all owners in Lasix-free winners (10) and collected a record $6,000 bonus for Sekani’s victory in last year’s $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred female sprinters. Sekani, who was then trained by VanMeter, is the only horse to collect a Lasix-free bonus in a stakes race.

“I guess we’re running for $1,060,000,” McPeek said, adding he discussed the move with Swiss Skydiver’s owner, Peter Callahan. “She doesn’t need Lasix.”

Swiss Skydiver won an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2020 after winning five races, including Oaklawn’s $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3).

In Oaklawn’s two other $1 million races this year, Arkansas Derby (G1) and Rebel Stakes (G2), horses were only eligible for Kentucky Derby points if they didn’t race on Lasix. None of the combined 14 entrants for the Rebel (eight) or Arkansas Derby (six) raced on Lasix.

What’s in a Name?

Trainer Todd Pletcher, a 2021 nominee to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, has a horse entered Saturday at Oaklawn in Fearless, among the favorites for the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older runners.

Roughly 24 hours before Pletcher, the trainer, was scheduled to send out Fearless in the Oaklawn Handicap, unbeaten Pletcher, the horse, was to make his 3-year-old debut in an allowance sprint Friday at Oaklawn.

“I have no connection to the horse,” Pletcher said Wednesday afternoon.

But Sara Patterson does. Pletcher is owned by Patterson’s father, Randy, who purchased the son of Jack Milton for $7,500 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Sara Patterson named Pletcher after her best friend, Shad Pletcher, who died in December 2019. He was 48.

“I had just spent the weekend with him,” Patterson said. “Hadn’t seen him in a year. Unexpectedly, in the middle of the night, just passed away. It was a pulmonary aneurism.”

Trained by Randy Morse, Pletcher was a 2 ¾-length winner of his Nov. 27, 2020, career debut at Remington Park. Randy Patterson, Morse’s main client, owns Cedar Run Farm, a 200-acre foaling and layup facility just west of Hot Springs in Pearcy. Sara Patterson manages Cedar Run and said Pletcher was the first horse she’s selected at a sale.

“It was coming down to the end of the sale and a lot of the sales companies were posting pictures on their Facebook pages – ‘Hey, check out this colt, check out this, check out that,’ ” Patterson said. “There was a colt and he just kept popping up on my Facebook page. I got to researching it and looking at it.”

After diving into Pletcher’s pedigree, Patterson said she really liked the colt and sent her father some pictures. A contact for Randy Patterson then inspected the colt, Sara Patterson said, and gave the thumbs up to bid.

“Dad, of course, made it sound like he wasn’t going to buy him,” Patterson said. “It’s just another horse, blah, blah. I said, ‘OK, that’s fine, but if I were going to pick one, that would be my pick. I like that horse.’ Sale goes on, I look at the results and, sure enough, I scroll down there and there it says, ‘Randy Patterson.’ ”

Sara Patterson said she had to come up with a name and eventually thought of her late best friend.

“He was always so supportive of me and my career and finally making the decision to come down to Arkansas,” Patterson said. “I felt like it was cool. He would always tell me how proud he was of me being able to come down and live this dream that I’m living. I was like, ‘Pletcher, that’s got to be his name. That’s it. It’s Pletcher.’ ”

Patterson, 35, grew up in Anthony, Kan., and she and her father began developing Cedar Run approximately seven years ago to target the Arkansas breeding program.

After the name Pletcher was approved by The Jockey Club, Patterson said she realized “everybody” would believe the colt was named after Todd Pletcher.

“I never even thought about it at the time,” Patterson said with a laugh. “I’m excited about the horse.”

Welder Time

Oaklawn will run two $1 million races Saturday (Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap) and have a millionaire running in an allowance event when Welder makes a rare appearance outside Oklahoma for trainer Theresa Sue Luneack and owner Ra-Max Farms LLC.

Oklahoma-bred Welder is the 2-1 program favorite for the 10th race – the Oaklawn Handicap and Apple Blossom are bookends – a conditioned sprint for older horses. Welder will be making his first start since a Dec. 19, 2020, allowance victory at Remington Park. It was his record-tying 15th career victory at the Oklahoma City venue.

Luneack said the 8-year-old gray gelding was rerouted to Oaklawn after the $50,000 Highland Ice Stakes Tuesday at Will Rogers Downs near Tulsa was canceled because of lack of entries. Will Rogers is Welder’s home track and he is based just a couple of miles away.

“He’s fit, ready to run and ready to rock,” Luneack said after Welder galloped Thursday morning at Oaklawn under regular rider David Cabrera. “Jose Santos said, ‘Bring him to Oaklawn.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll see what I can do.’ The race came up on the extras and it was a perfect fit.”

Santos is the agent for Cabrera. In Welder’s only Oaklawn appearance, he finished third, beaten two lengths by future Eclipse Award winner Whitmore, in the $150,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters in 2019. Welder is a legend in Oklahoma, amassing 15 career stakes victories between Remington Park and Will Rogers Downs and has a 26-5-4 mark from 38 starts overall and earnings of $1,204,042.

Luneack said Welder was under consideration for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) last Saturday at Oaklawn, but the gelding’s priority has always been Oklahoma.

“We try to help Oklahoma racing, so we really wanted to run in the Oklahoma stake,” Luneack said. “We passed on the Count Fleet because we were trying to promote Oklahoma, but obviously that didn’t work. He probably should have run in the Count Fleet.”

Luneack said Welder arrived Wednesday night for Saturday’s 6-furlong race, which has a $108,000 purse – roughly three times higher than his last start.

“It’s always a challenge for us,” Luneack said. “We don’t haul him a lot. But now that we have to be here three days prior, I actually think that might be to Welder’s advantage because he can come in and go to the racetrack to gallop and relax. Maybe a couple of trips to the track without racing will help him settle in a little better.”