The Rubber Match Between Swiss Skydiver And Shedaresthedevil At Fasig-Tipton November

Some horses are destined to be compared forever.

It’s nearly impossible to bring up Affirmed without conjuring Alydar in the next breath; the same way you can’t discuss Sunday Silence without Easy Goer, or Zenyatta without Rachel Alexandra. One story can’t be told without the other running parallel, even if they never actually touch.

Over the past two years, the story of Swiss Skydiver has also been the story of Shedaresthedevil, and vice versa.

The best “who you got” scenarios present two options that are similar enough to make the decision agonizing, but so fundamentally different that the answer reveals a truth about the person making the decision. In that regard, no two horses in recent memory might be more apt for comparison.

Both are WinStar Farm-bred daughters of the Grade 1 winner Daredevil, and their combined success in the sport’s biggest races were directly responsible for their sire’s return from exodus after a season standing in Turkey. Both are known for their hardscrabble tenacity on the racetrack, and both have broken or threatened record times in their biggest wins.

Though it feels like they’ve been in direct competition as long as they’ve been in the national spotlight, Kenny McPeek trainee Swiss Skydiver and Shedaresthedevil from the Brad Cox barn have only gone head-to-head twice, and the series stands at one win a piece.

Swiss Skydiver won their first meeting in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park, staring down Venetian Harbor in a prolonged stretch battle, while Shedaresthedevil was the best of the rest, finishing 13 1/4 lengths behind in third.

“She was a tremendous filly,” Cox said, assessing the competition. “They’re two of the best fillies of their generation for sure, and in a position here to be taken home by some world class breeders.”

A different Shedaresthedevil entered the gate at Churchill Downs four months later for the Kentucky Oaks. The rivals each sat off of pacesetter Gamine, but when it was time to make a statement, Shedaresthedevil’s less-impeded trip left Swiss Skydiver chasing a stakes-record time for 1 1/8 miles.

“We didn’t do anything different,” McPeek said about running against Shedaresthedevil. “We always ran our race. They’re two amazing fillies. In some ways, they’ve been aligned for a long time.”

It seemed like the dream setup of two evenly-matched athletes ascending together to the top of their division, but life, timing, and travel schedules took them in different directions after the Kentucky Oaks.

Swiss Skydiver went on to become just the third filly in the past century to win the Preakness Stakes, and did it faster than anyone besides the mighty Secretariat, took home the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly and dabbled in facing the boys at four. Shedaresthedevil positioned herself as a potential champion older filly in 2021, with Grade 1 victories in Kentucky and California.

Now at the end of their respective 4-year-old campaigns, both fillies were positioned as two of the marquee offerings of Tuesday’s Fasig-Tipton November sale. This will likely be the final time the two inextricably linked fillies will occupy the same space in anything resembling competition, and the kind of money they were projected to command would make their racetrack purses look like peanuts.

Shedaresthedevil headlines the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar.

In one corner, from the consignment of Hunter Valley Farm, was Hip 232, Shedaresthedevil.

A filly whose scope deceives the eye until one is standing right at her side and suddenly finds oneself looking up, Shedaresthedevil gave no hints in her muscling or sleek coat that she had just shipped cross-country after keeping up with blazing fractions in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and finishing sixth just days earlier.

Her demeanor was cool and professional on the Fasig-Tipton sales grounds. She was a bay sports car.

Swiss Skydiver and jockey Robby Albarado win the Beholder in the 2020 3-year-old filly champion’s seasonal debut.

In the other corner, from the Runnymede Farm consignment, was Hip 264, Swiss Skydiver.

Where Shedaresthedevil was sleek and long, Swiss Skydiver was the chestnut powerhouse, boasting the kind of compact hip and shoulder typical from broodmare sire Johannesburg that makes it easy to understand why her connections would explore racing against males.

Arriving on the sales grounds after 60 days at Runnymede Farm, Swiss Skydiver’s time at the end of the shank was spent with subdued curiosity, calmly following the clicks of cameras and the march of nearby weanlings with her eyes and ears.

For both fillies, the road to the Fasig-Tipton sale was years in the making.

Shedaresthedevil entered Hunter Valley Farm’s orbit when the filly was a 2-year-old, going through the ring as a racing-age horse at the 2019 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. She was offered to dissolve a partnership between Qatar Racing and Glencrest Farm, and after selling to Flurry Racing Stables for $280,000, Qatar Racing stayed on as a partner, and they were joined by Big Aut Farms.

Hunter Valley’s Fergus Galvin said Shedaresthedevil spent a couple weeks at the Versailles, Ky., farm prior to the November sale after primarily racing on the West Coast. When the filly needed some time off at the end of her 2020 campaign, she returned to familiar soil.

“She’s just so easy to be around,” Galvin said. “She was like an old broodmare when she was at the farm. We had her in a paddock close by so we could see her every day. She was never worried, had an easy disposition. You’d never know she was on the farm. Those are the good ones to keep, because she’s just so easy on herself. She knew it was relaxation time, and she made the most of it.”

With that much experience in the hands of Hunter Valley staff, there weren’t many surprises when it came to the product on offer Tuesday. It was just a matter of getting her there in the first place. The usual Tex Sutton air freight was replaced by chartered FedEx flights, meaning there were no straight shots from Southern California to Kentucky.

“Getting back was definitely more of an inconvenience, because they had to go from Del Mar to LAX, and that flight took them to Memphis, and they vanned up from there,” Galvin said. “It was a long journey, but she took it in stride, and she’s none the worse.”

Shedaresthedevil arrives at Fasig-Tipton from the 2021 Breeders’ Cup.

Shedaresthedevil arrived at Fasig-Tipton’s Newtown Paddocks around 9 p.m. Sunday evening, just over 24 hours after she ran in the Distaff. She was greeted by three bigger-than-life-sized posters of herself spread across the walls of Barn 7, along with a one-story tall LED monitor and a party tent to coerce potential buyers to stay a while.

Marketing a big offering at the November sales is all about grabbing the eye and shouting their selling points from the rooftop. It’s the kind of spotlight that all but the very upper crust of the sport sees during their on-track careers.

Seeing his handiwork spread across the side of a building wasn’t a new experience for Cox when he saw the Shedaresthedevil display on Tuesday night. He’d gone through a similar process a year earlier with champion Monomoy Girl, so it wasn’t a novel experience, but Cox knew what having the giant horse on the wall meant to his career.

“It’s gratifying to see horses you’ve worked with and helped developed and been part of the team, to get them to this point,” he said. “It’s kind of tells you you’ve got good stock, and you’ve managed it the right way and got it to this point, and it’s really gratifying. It’s really cool.”

On the other side of the property, Swiss Skydiver had a simpler display, but effective in its own way.

The Runnymede consignment had one wall-sized poster detailing the filly’s dominant crisscrossing of the map, but the real draw was on the other side of the consignment’s table: the cooler given to the 2020 Preakness Stakes winner. A garment like that says as much as several wall posters.

Hip 246, Swiss Skydiver, at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton November Sale

Runnymede Farm and owner Peter Callahan have a decades-long relationship, which Runnymede president Romain Malhouitre made the decision process a short one when it came time to sell Callahan’s best filly.

“When I knew he was going to sell her, I asked him politely, and he answered that he never thought about anyone else but Runnymede selling the filly for him,” he said. “After the Personal Ensign (on Aug. 28 in Saratoga), Kenny kept her for a while just to let her down and make sure everything was okay. She was very sound when she retired. After that, she came over three to four weeks ago. We just put her in the paddock and let her enjoy a bit of grass. She’s been off the racetrack for 60 days now.”

It was rare to pass by the single-horse Runnymede consignment in Barn 1 without seeing the chestnut filly out for a show. Sometimes, it was serious seven-figure buyers, and others were simply there to snap a picture of the Eclipse winner, but Malhouitre said both were part of the plan.

Romain Malhouitre

“She’s been quite busy,” he said. “Those kinds of mares, some people are shy to pull her out, but it was always clear with Mr. Callahan and Kenny that we wanted to share her. We have welcomed everybody to just look at her.

“Special fillies have special demeanors,” Malhouitre continued. “They know how to handle stress, and they have a presence. They just come out of the stall and understand how important they are. If you saw her in her racing days, it was the same in the paddock at the races. She always handled everything in stride.”

Like Cox, McPeek has had his share of fillies get the “big horse” treatment at the November sales. This one, though, was a little harder than most for a few reasons.

“I’m really proud of her,” he said. “She’s been an awesome filly to be around. When you set the bar as we’ve set it with her, it’s tough letting a filly like that go, but I also know it’s the business of the business. I did my job, and I’m really proud of the job we did.”

“The hard part about tonight is going to be my 6-year-old daughter,” McPeek continued. “She’s not happy that they might be selling her. Whoever buys her, we’re going to have to ask permission to go see her.”

On Tuesday night, the two fillies set foot in the sale ring almost exactly a half-hour apart from each other.

Shedaresthedevil was the first to enter the back ring, flanked by Cox and jockey Florent Geroux, who each made the drive in from Louisville to watch the filly sell.

It’s a different kind of walkover than either horseman is used to, but Cox said the buildup wasn’t particularly tense for him, even the stakes meant potentially losing one of the best runners in his barn.

“To be honest with you, it’s getting late and I have to drive back to Louisville for training tomorrow,” he said with a smirk. “I’m ready to get it over with because I’m getting sleepy. I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning. It’s some anxious moments, absolutely, to see who ends up with her and what the plans are.”

Shedaresthedevil handled the bark and chatter of the back ring as professionally as she had handled the inspections, sticking to business and using her long frame to show herself well. For a horse that hadn’t been through a sale in two years, she clearly hadn’t lost the lessons she’d learned during sale prep.

Shedaresthedevil entered the Fasig-Tipton sale ring at 8:17 p.m. Eastern, led in by a minute-long rumination by announcer Jesse Ullery on the filly’s place in history as the fastest Kentucky Oaks winner. Bidding opened at $1 million, and abruptly passed $3 million from bidders around the pavilion. The filly stood statuesque as the bidding hovered up to $5 million with little stalling.

At the $5-million point, the asking stopped being answered, and the hammer fell to a bidder in the back. For the November sale, Fasig-Tipton had a remote bidspotter stationed on the outskirts of the outdoor walking ring, and the ticket met a picnic table with big-ticket buyer Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm, and Gainesway’s Alex Solis.

Late in the leadup to the sale, Solis brokered the partnership to link Pope with Flurry Racing and Qatar Racing to buy the mare in a new partnership and keep her in training with Cox.

“She’s such a wonderful racehorse, and she’s gorgeous,” Pope said. “She reminds me a lot, in her physique and the way she carries herself, of Havre de Grace, so maybe we’ll have another Horse of the Year.”

Prior to the filly’s time in the ring, Cox expressed hope that Shedaresthedevil would remain in training, figuring she might have something left in the tank for a 2022 campaign.

“I feel like we’ve left tread on the tire, you could say,” he said. “She’s a very sound filly. I wouldn’t say we’ve over-raced her. We’ve spaced her races with races like the Breeders’ Cup and Kentucky Oaks in mind, and she always performed well.”

The two fillies never formally crossed paths on the Fasig-Tipton grounds, but Swiss Skydiver was quick to tread over the same ground shortly after Shedaresthedevil sold.

Swiss Skydiver was more fired up than her counterpart in the back walking ring, peering over to look at the inside of the pavilion every time she circled by, and getting on her toes when it was behind her.

She was much more focused when the lights were on, though, stepping in front of the auctioneer’s stand at 8:46 p.m. Announcer Danny Green reminded the crowd of Swiss Skydiver’s Preakness triumph, and the stellar broodmare records of the few fillies to have achieved the feat.

Compared to Shedaresthedevil’s rapid ascent of bids, Swiss Skydiver’s time in the ring was more of a slow burn. She opened at $500,000, and progressed into the seven figures at a much more muted pace. She held at $2.2 million for a moment, then again at $2.5 million. She gradually ticked up by $100,000 increments until she hit $3.5 million, when a new bidder emerged to the filly’s left.

Swiss Skydiver continued a steady, but contentious climb past $4 million, and it appeared she was set to challenge Shedaresthedevil’s $5-million mark. Action picked up as she approached $4.5 million, and the filly’s ears twitched to follow the yelp of each bidspotter as they cried out. The drive was ultimately stopped at $4.7 million.

Hip 246, Swiss Skydiver, 2021 Fasig-Tipton November Sale

The bid was once again in the back ring, leaving a moment to wonder if Pope had landed both Daredevil fillies for her star-studded collection. The ticket ultimately went to Katsumi Yoshida’s Northern Farm, a Japanese operation known for purchasing some of America’s top fillies at auction.

“We will bring her back to Japan for sure, but we haven’t decided who should cover,” said Shingo Hashimoto, who signed the ticket. “We’ll see how it goes. We’re very thrilled.”

Runnymede Farm chairman and CEO Brutus Clay III greeted Malhouitre with a celebratory clap on the shoulder after the fall of the hammer. The sale was an astounding success for the Callahan operation, which purchased Swiss Skydiver through McPeek for just $35,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

As the price made its steady climb, Malhouitre said it was those humble beginnings that were at the forefront of his mind.

“I feel relieved,” he said. “I feel happy for the Callahan family to trust us to sell such a beautiful horse, and I feel good for Kenny McPeek. We know how good he is as a judge buying yearlings, and for him to do that over again, and bring those horses to the sale is unbelievable.

“You just don’t want it to stop,” he continued. “It goes to the reserve and stalls a little bit, and you wonder. Then it starts to find its rhythm, and you find someone doesn’t want to stop yet. It’s a good feeling. Mr. Callahan has been in this business all his life, and for him to have such a beautiful horse, I was just thinking of Mr. Callahan and his family.”

After one last touching point, Shedaresthedevil and Swiss Skydiver will once again go on very different paths. For Shedaresthedevil, it’s back to the life she knew in a familiar barn. For Swiss Skydiver, it’s on to a new life on the other side of the world.

If the bidding is to serve as the final score for this meeting, Shedaresthedevil came out on top by $300,000 – a relatively thin margin in the seven-figure bonanza that is Fasig-Tipton November. However, with two of the original partners staying in on Shedaresthedevil, the amount of money that will actually be spent on that transaction will depend on the shares in the new partnership between Pope, Flurry Racing, and Qatar Racing.

If one wanted to deem this one too close to call based on that fact, it would be hard to blame them.

The two Daredevil fillies who served as the face of a deep class and each set history in their own unique way arguably finished their lifetime series with a record of 1-1-1. For two competitors so evenly matched, it couldn’t have ended any other way.

The post The Rubber Match Between Swiss Skydiver And Shedaresthedevil At Fasig-Tipton November appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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