Come-backing Grade II winners Birdatthewire, Keen Pauline and Gold Medal Dancer headline a field of eight fillies and mares entered for Saturday’s 30th running of the $200,000 Chilukki Stakes (Grade II) at Churchill Downs.
The one-mile Chilukki will go as Race 10 of 11 on Saturday at approximately 5:15 p.m. (all times Eastern). The first race is 12:40 p.m.
Forum Racing IV’s Birdatthewire and Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Keen Pauline are 3-year-old fillies that will face elders for the first time and hail from the barn of trainer Dale Romans. Birdatthewire, winner of the Forward Gal (GII) and Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) in South Florida early in the year, will be making her first start since finishing fifth in the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) when she was 5 ¼ lengths back of winner Lovely Maria. Black-Eyed Susan (GII) winner Keen Pauline most recently finished ninth of 11 in the $1 million Cotillion (GI) at Parx Racing on Sept. 19.
Romans saddled last year’s Chilukki winner Molly Morgan and also won the race in 2004 with Halory Leigh. A win on Saturday would tie Rusty Arnold’s record for most wins by a trainer in the race.
Gold Medal Dancer, a 5-year-old Pin Oak Stable LLC homebred, hasn’t raced since finishing sixth in the $200,000 Fleur de Lis Handicap (GII) on June 13. In March, she defeated 2014 Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable by a half-length to win the $294,000 Azeri Handicap (GII).
The complete Chilukki field from the rail out (with jockeys): Birdatthewire (Corey Lanerie), Black-Eyed Susan third Ahh Chocolate (Brian Hernandez Jr.), stakes-placed Serene Melody (Julien Leparoux), Open Mind winner Spelling Again (Shaun Bridgmohan), Grade III-placed Ambusher (Chris Landeros), Gold Medal Dancer (Luis Quinonez), Keen Pauline (Miguel Mena) and multiple stakes winner Shanon Nicole (Robby Albarado).
Known as the Churchill Downs Distaff from 1996-2004, the Chilukki was renamed in 2005 to honor Stonerside Stable’s graded stakes-winning filly trained by Bob Baffert. The daughter of Cherokee Run made four starts at Churchill Downs, all of which were victories. Chilukki won the 2000 edition of this race in what would be her final start.
COX HAS HIGH FOR CHILUKKI ENTRANT SPELLING AGAIN – Sea Jay Racing LLC’s Spelling Again will take another shot at a graded stakes triumph in Saturday’s $200,000 Chilukki (GII). Last time out, the Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Awesome Again was a troubled fourth in the Thoroughbred Club of America (GII) at Keeneland, her lone start against such caliber.
“She had a little bit of an unfortunate trip in the beginning of that race [TCA] and got bounced around a little bit,” trainer Brad Cox said. “She had lost a little ground but still ran great and galloped out in front for what that’s worth. It was a good showing, we were beaten two lengths in a Grade II. She was beaten only a neck behind Judy the Beauty and plus we had a wide trip so I think we could’ve definitely had a better trip but that’s horse racing. Had she won or ran second we would have tried for the Breeders’ Cup. We were actually thinking about trying the Breeders’ Cup anyway but just kind of thought that it would have been a good field and she probably would not have got in. We’re obviously high on her and she’s been doing great.”
Cox believes the Chilukki to be most logical spot for Spelling Again, whose last victory came two starts ago in the Open Mind at Churchill Downs in September.
“The race is good timing,” Cox said. “I like the one-turn mile with her I think she can do anything between three-quarters and a one-turn mile. She did the two-turn mile at Indiana, but that was a two-other-than allowance and this is deeper water. As long as she settles, she should be tough going a one-turn mile.”
Cox is looking ahead with Spelling Again, stating that the Humana Distaff (GI) on the Kentucky Derby undercard is the long term goal for next year.
“I guess the real goal is to get her graded stakes placed,” he said. “But actually we talked about treating the Humana Distaff as our Breeders’ Cup. We’re taking it one step at a time. That would be a goal for next spring because seven-eighths would fit her real well here. She’s really training well and she’s on her game. If she shows up like we think she will, she’ll be tough.”
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who guided the filly to her Open Mind victory in September, returns to the irons.
AHH CHOCOLATE SEEKS GRADED STAKES GLORY IN CHILUKKI – Stoneway Farms’ Ahh Chocolate is hoping to hand her first graded stakes victory with a start in Saturday’s $200,000 Chilukki (GII).
The daughter of Candy Ride’s last victory came at Churchill Downs during the September Meet against older fillies and mares against allowance company, which she won under a hand ride by four lengths. The Chilukki will be the 3-year-old filly’s second time facing older fillies and mares. Her most recent start came in the Raven Run (GII) at Keeneland where she finished eighth beaten 4 ½ lengths behind eventual winner Sarah Sis.
“It’s that time of year when there’s no other races for strictly 3-year-old fillies, so this is one of the only options,” Howard said. “She’s doing real good and seems to be training well.”
Brian Hernandez, Jr., the pilot in all but one of Ahh Chocolate’s seven career starts, will be aboard for Saturday’s race.
CASSE REFELCTS ON BIG WEEKEND, TALKS PLANS WITH PROMISING TWO-YEAR-OLDS – Breeders’ Cup weekend was without question a big one for the Casse barn. Not only was the trainer finally able to taste Breeders’ Cup success for the first time, but did so twice last week. Gary Barber’s Catch A Glimpse was victorious in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GI) while Robert Masterson’s Tepin beat males in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Saturday, being only the fifth filly or mare to do so.
Assistant trainer Norman Casse, who oversees his father Mark’s Churchill string, reflected on this accomplishment and went on to discuss other accomplishments throughout the month of October outside of the Breeders’ Cup victories.
“The Breeders Cup races are very hard to get into to begin with and they’re very hard to win,” Norman Casse said. “It’s been about two or three that we probably should have won with better trips so it wasn’t like we had been running bad – we just couldn’t get over the hump.
“It’s been a few days now and I think it’s still sinking in. It’s really been an incredible run; it’s actually been a huge month. We won the Grade I [First Lady] with Tepin in which she galloped. We won the training title at Keeneland, which was a tremendous honor. And then at the end of October we win two Breeders’ Cup races. So it has been a tremendous month altogether.”
It wasn’t all good times for the Casse barn this year, however. The stable suffered through a frustrating summer meet at Saratoga where Casse won three races from 42 starts and ran second eight times, two of which were with Tepin.
“It really just shows you that you got to keep running and you got to keep doing what you’re doing,” Casse said. “Saratoga was one of those deals where we were running well, we just weren’t winning. It got pretty frustrating at times, but when all the chips were down our horses were doing everything that they needed to do on the big days.”
As many American trainers would agree with, the Breeders’ Cup turf races can often times be the toughest to win for trainers based in North America because of such a strong European presence in such races. This, according to Casse, makes the barn’s two victories that much more special.
“What I think is most gratifying is that all you hear is about how much better the Europeans are and how they do things better than we do,” he said. “It’s almost like American racing is second tier to them and to beat their best is the most gratifying part of the whole weekend. I mean, Tepin is considered to be one of the best in the world now, and anytime that you’re the best in the world at something, that’s pretty special.”
While both Casse-trained fillies are enjoying some down time at Moon Shadow Farm in Ocala, Fla., Casse says that a 2016 campaign in the process of being mapped for both horses. If all goes well for Tepin, she could potentially face the boys once more on the Keeneland lawn in next year’s $300,000 Makers 46 Mile (GI) before racing in the $300,000 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (GI) on Kentucky Derby weekend.
“We’re thinking about that [Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile], and we may even run in the Makers Mark Mile,” Casse said. “Keeneland seems to be her favorite turf course and she’s proven that she can beat the boys, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t go back and do it again. Right now, the long term goal is the race on the Derby undercard.”
Casse went on to discuss plans for some of his 2-year-olds that competed in the Breeders’ Cup last weekend. Conquest Stables’ Conquest Big E, eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), and John C. Oxley’s Airoforce, second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (GI), could make their next starts on closing weekend in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Nov. 28.
“I’m still not losing hope with him [Conquest Big E] and we’d like to try Airoforce on the dirt before he goes down [to Florida], so we’re thinking about running him in the [Kentucky] Jockey Club as well,” Casse said. “As long as they’re training well and they don’t look like they got too much taken out of them, they’ll run at the end of the meet.”
WHO’S THE CHAMP? HANDICAPPING CONTEST RETURNS SUNDAY – The weekly “Who’s the Champ? Handicapping Contest” returns Sunday in Churchill Downs’ ITW area on the second floor of the Clubhouse. Bettors can enter for $35 ($30 for TSC Elite members) and are required to make mythical $2 Win/Place bets on Races 3-8. The highest bankroll will win a $1,000 cash voucher. Second place is a $500 voucher and third is a $250 voucher. Registration takes place Sunday between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the top of the Gate 17 escalators.
DOWN THE STRETCH – Kaleem Shah’s 3-year-old Dortmund recorded a half-mile workout in :48.40 at Santa Anita on Wednesday morning, which was the sixth-fastest of 32 at the distance. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has mentioned the $500,000 Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Friday, Nov. 27 as a possible next start. He won the $75,580 Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 by 1 ¾ lengths, which was his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Preakness (GI). … Thursday (Nov. 5) is the first of two Senior Days at the Fall Meet that offer discounted Millionaires Row tickets to ages 60 and up. The other event is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 18. … Presented by Kroger and in partnership with Kosair Children’s Hospital, Family Adventure Day will be held Sunday (Nov. 8). While adults enjoy the racing action, the kiddos will relish numerous activities throughout the day. Tickets for adults and children age 3 and up are $8 in advance online at ChurchillDowns.com or $10 at the gate. One dollar of every event ticket will benefit Kosair Children’s Hospital. Family Adventure Day tickets include admission and access to the Courtyard (Section 119) for trackside viewing plus a wristband to access for all activities beneath the Grandstand Terrace.
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