John C. Oxley’s Spring in the Air, a Grade I winner at 2 and a consistent player in graded stakes events in her two subsequent seasons of racing, will bid for millionaire status when she takes on nine accomplished rivals in Saturday’s 29th running of the $200,000-addded Chilukki Stakes (GII) for fillies and mares ages 3 and up at Churchill Downs.
But the task for the Mark Casse-trained filly will be challenging has her rivals include multiple graded-stakes winner Molly Morgan, the 5-2 favorite in odds maker Mike Battaglia’s morning line odds for the Chilukki, and experienced graded stakes stars My Happy Face, My Option, Street Girl and Honey Hues.
The one-mile Chilukki is the featured event on a 10-race live racing program beneath the track’s famed Twin Spires that shares the day’s spotlight with the simulcast of the second of two days of competition in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita. Also on the schedule for the first Saturday of the Fall Meet at Churchill Downs is the $58,000-added Bet On Sunshine, a six-furlong overnight stakes race for 3-year-olds and up.
A special Breeders’ Cup Saturday post time for the first live race at Churchill Downs is 2:15 p.m. (all times Eastern). The Bet On Sunshine is set as the seventh race with a post time of 6:05 p.m. and the Chilukki is the ninth event with a post time of 7:35 p.m. Admission gates will open at 12:30 p.m.
Saturday’s feature was known as the Churchill Downs Distaff prior to 2005 when it was named in honor of Stonerside Stable’s Chilukki, who established a record time of 1:33.57 for its one-turn mile distance when she won the race in 2000. Her record stood until Nov. 22, 2012, when Infrattini covered the distance in 1:33.31. Chilukki also set a Churchill Downs track record at 4 ½ furlongs during her 2-year-old season in which she earned the Eclipse Award for champion juvenile filly. The daughter of Cherokee Run won 11 of 17 races for trainer Bob Baffert and collected career earnings of $1,201,828.
The shining moment in the career of Spring in the Air, who is the Chilukki’s 7-2 second choice in Battaglia’s morning line, came in the autumn of her juvenile season when she rallied from 10th to win the Grade I Darley Alcibiades over the former synthetic Polytrack course at Keeneland. She followed that triumph with a fifth-place finish behind eventual 2-year-old filly champion Beholder in the 2012 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Santa Anita, her only start over a dirt course in 17 career races.
Spring in the Air will seek her fifth career victory and her second stakes win of the year in the Chilukki. The Ontario, Canada-bred daughter of Spring At Last won the 5 ½-furlong race over Polytrack at Woodbine in May. A third-place finish to Leigh Court in Woodbine’s Seaway (GIII) moved her close to $1 million in career earnings and she brings a record of 4-6-2 in her 17 outings and a bankroll of $913,032 into the Chilukki.
Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Spring in the Air, who drew post three and will carry 121 pounds.
The primary obstacle to Spring in the Air’s move to a loftier financial status could be Bill Cubbedge’s Molly Morgan, who upset Grade I winner On Fire Baby in Churchill Downs’ Fleur De Lis Handicap (GII) in June after running second to that rival in the Grade I La Troienne on Kentucky Oaks Day. The Dale Romans-trained daughter of Ghostzapper also won the Gardenia (GIII) at Ellis Park and finished a good third to 2013 Chilukki winner Don’t Tell Sophia in her most recent start in Keeneland’s Juddmonte Spinster (GI).
Molly Morgan is a “horse for the course” at Churchill Downs with record of 4-3-1 in 11 races at the Louisville track. Her career record stands 6-4-6 in 25 races and she has earned $522,163. Romans’ filly will shoulder high weight of 123 pounds, conceding two pounds to each of her rivals, when she breaks from post eight under Fall Meet leading jockey Corey Lanerie.
Possible threats to the top pair in the Chilukki include Michael Dubb and Rockingham Ranch’s My Happy Face, the Peter Miller-trained runner up to Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Princess of Sylmar in the 2013 Coaching Club American Oaks (GI) and a close third Sweet Lulu in the Test (GI) at Saratoga; WinStar Farm’s Street Girl, runner-up to the recently-retired Midnight Lucky in the Humana Distaff (GI) at Churchill Downs for trainer Todd Pletcher; L T B Inc. and Miles Childers’ Honey Hues, winner of the Early Times Mint Julep (GIII) on the Churchill Downs turf for veteran trainer Bernie Flint; and Timothy J. Keeney’s My Option, winner of the Chicago Handicap (GIII) on synthetic Polytrack for Arlington Park-based trainer Chris Block.
Flint also trains Cheema Kazmi and Chowhan Racing LLC’s Anahauc, who is cross-entered in Churchill Downs’ $58,000 Dream Supreme on Friday.
Bidding for her first stakes victory in the Chilukki is Mort Fink’s homebred Enchanting Lisa, a 3 ½-length allowance winner over the Beard Course distance of about seven furlongs at Keeneland on Oct. 8. The 4-year-old daughter of War Chant is a half-sister to two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan trained by Charlie LoPresti.
The field for the Chilukki from the rail out (with jockey, morning line odds): Street Girl (Calvin Borel, 6-1), Call Pat (Brian Hernandez Jr., 20-1), Spring in the Air (Bridgmohan, 7-2), My Happy Face (Alan Garcia, 8-1), Drama Drama (Channing Hill, 15-1), Anahauc (Chris Landeros, 12-1), Honey Hues (Jesus Castanon, 6-1), Molly Morgan (Lanerie, 5-2), Enchanting Lisa (Robby Albarado, 10-1) and My Option (Eddie Perez, 6-1).
The Bet On Sunshine attracted a field on nine older sprinters headed by Mike McCarty’s Lemon Drop Dream, the Steve Asmussen-trained winner of Count Fleet (GIII) at Oaklawn Park; Mike Maker and Jana Wagner’s Ghost Is Clear, a two-time winner at Churchill Downs who finished third to Mico Margarita in the Remington Park Sprint last time out; Card, an Illinois-based sprinter whose only loss in his last five races was a fifth-place finish to Ghost Is Clear in the Dark Star at Canterbury Park; and Woodbine-based Sharp Sensation, a close third on turf to No Say Never in Keeneland’s Grade III Woodford for trainer Reade Baker.
The most intriguing member of the Bet On Sunshine cast could be Windy Hill Farm’s veteran stakes winner Nate’s Mineshaft, who races for the first time in more than 13 months. The 7-year-old Mineshaft ridgling brings a record of 9-2-2 in 24 races and earnings of $706,678 into the Bet On Sunshine. His best season came in 2012 when he finished a narrowly-beaten third to Ron the Greek and eventual Horse of the Year Wise Dan in Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) and won the New Orleans Handicap (GII) and the Lone Star Handicap (GIII).
The field for the Bet On Sunshine from the rail out (with jockey, weight): Lemon Drop Dream (Alan Garcia, 124), Star Harbour (Chris Landeros, 120), Ghost Is Clear (Corey Lanerie, 120), Apprehender (Jesus Castanon, 120), Rugged (Joe Johnson, 120), Sharp Sensation (Channing Hill, 124), Nates Mineshaft (Rafael Mojica Jr., 120), Card (Shaun Bridgmohan, 120), and No Distinction (Calvin Borel, 120).