Swiss Skydiver got the better of a thrilling battle with Venetian Harbor to come out on top in a strong renewal of the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Friday night.
The Kenny McPeek-trained filly had run out a surprise winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks on her previous start and was again overlooked in the betting at 16-1 locally, but she went toe to toe with the favourite to advertise her Kentucky Oaks claims.
Venetian Harbor was all the rage at 4-5 for the Grade Three affair after her smart performance at Santa Anita in February and was quickly to the lead under Flavien Prat, with Brian Hernandez Jr in close attendance on the eventual winner.
It soon became clear it would be between the two and ultimately it was Swiss Skydiver who proved the strongest by two and a half lengths, with nearly 11 lengths back to Shedaresthedevil in third.
McPeek said: “She’s very tactical. We had a hard time getting a two-turn race for her as a two-year-old. We ran her short three times. When we finally got to run her longer, she’s been as good as it gets.
“There really aren’t a lot of options out there right now. I think they will reschedule the Ashland so it sets up for the Oaks. It would be a pretty good year to win the Gulfstream Park Oaks, the Fantasy, the Ashland and the Kentucky Oaks.
“I’m just thrilled for Peter Callahan. We’ve been in a slump for three or four years and now he has a really special one. We’re enjoying this.”
Trainer Richard Baltas had “no excuses” for Venetian Harbor.
“She ran good. I think she just got tired the last sixteenth,” he told Oaklawn publicity. “Can’t take anything away from the winner. I was sitting next to Kenny McPeek and he told me the filly was training out of her mind.
“I thought my filly was good, obviously. I really don’t have any excuses.”