As the winning horse of the Preakness Stakes crossed the finish line on Oct. 3, a wave of emotion swept through a living room in Westchester County.
Watching with his family, the horse’s sole owner Peter Callahan took in the moment of just how far he’d come from his humble beginnings in Astoria.
Raised in St. Patrick’s parish, Astoria, Callahan attended the parochial school before enrolling at St. Francis Prep, Williamsburg. He starred on the football and baseball teams for the L’il Terriers.
In football, he was a halfback and defensive back for the legendary coach Vince O’Connor in the late 1950s and helped the team capture the 1959 city championship. As a baseball player, he was teammates with the great Joe Torre on a formidable Prep squad.
Callahan went on to continue his baseball career at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights. He then attended the Columbia University Graduate School of Business before embarking on a long career in the magazine publishing and radio broadcasting industry.
In the mid 1980s, he got his first taste into the world of thoroughbred horseracing as a partial owner. Over the past three decades, he’s held an ownership stake in nearly three dozen horses, which have tallied more than 200 in-the-money finishes.
Of course, patience is a virtue when it comes to horseracing. As much success as some of his horses have enjoyed, it’s been a long wait for this recent run of greatness.
“The Bible says that the trophy doesn’t always go to the fastest or the strongest,” Callahan said. “It goes to the competitor with the most amount of persistence. That’s certainly true in thoroughbred racing. You can’t be in the game for instant gratification, you’ve got to wait your turn and pay your dues.”
Callahan’s prized filly horse is named Swiss Skydiver. The filly got her name when Callahan found out that his oldest granddaughter, Callie, went skydiving in the Swiss Alps as she studied abroad in Paris. Even more fittingly, Swiss Skydiver was sired by a stallion named Daredevil.
In all the years Callahan has been involved with racing, he had never entered a horse into one of the Triple Crown races. That all changed this year, when the 78-year-old Callahan knew back in the spring that his filly could challenge the colts in this year’s major races.
“By the time the Preakness came around, we had a horse that was really coming into her own,” said Callahan, who always dresses his horses in red and blue to honor his alma mater’s colors. “She continued to grow and muscle up, so we were smacking our lips.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Triple Crown racing schedule was altered. The Preakness — normally the second leg — instead became the third leg. Thanks to the tireless efforts of trainer Ken McPeek and jockey Robby Albarado, Swiss Skydiver registered the second-fastest running time — 1:53.28 — in the storied history of the Maryland race, with the record still being held by 1973 Preakness and eventual Triple Crown champion Secretariat.
“It was just dumb Irish luck I guess,” said Callahan of his filly’s sensational feat. “We just decided to take a shot. Sometimes in racing, you take a shot, and it pays off.”
Due to safety concerns surrounding the coronavirus, Callahan did not make the trip to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Instead, he watched on TV with his family in Westchester, which was an experience he will forever cherish.
“I wish that somehow everyone gets to experience a colossal event like this with their family,” he said. “It was an exciting day.”
The St. Patrick’s, St. Francis Prep and St. Francis College families also share in the joy brought on by Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.