Churita and (from left) trainer Matt Rheinheimer, Jackie Porter and Trace Tetrick after her Super Final win in September of 2014 | Dean Gillette

Cheers for Churita

April 30, 2017

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The Indiana-bred trotting mare had the modest of starts, but has earned $644,692 lifetime and only missed a check three times in her career.

by James Platz

Yearling buyers are always looking for that diamond in the rough; a baby that is somehow overlooked in the catalog yet shines on the racetrack. When Michigan native Jackie Porter and his trainer, Matt Rheinheimer, selected Churita out of the 2013 Hoosier Classic Yearling Sale at the modest price of $3,700, they were just hoping for a nice horse for the Indiana fairs. Now five, the trotting mare has become one of the most consistent racehorses competing in the Hoosier State.

After bidding on other yearlings and missing out, Porter was running out of options in the fall of 2013. Dr. Paul Webb of Ivy Lane Farm invited Rheinheimer to look at a filly in his consignment from the first crop of Cantab Hall stallion Airzoom Lindy, which was not getting a lot of attention. Neither the trainer nor the owner had noticed Churita in the catalog, consigned as Hip 322 in a book that included 364 babies.

“She was kind of skinny, but you could see the potential. She just wasn’t there yet,” Rheinheimer said. “It was a last-ditch effort to buy a yearling.”

Added Porter, “She wasn’t on our list and we had no intention of looking at her. We took a chance on her.”

Porter successfully bid on Churita with hopes of racing her at the fairs. Ironically, after purchasing the filly they realized she was not eligible to the fair program. The oversight meant added pressure that if she was going to race in 2014, she would have to be able to compete in the Indiana Sires Stakes. Over the winter and into the spring Rheinheimer wasn’t sure the filly would make it, and had accepted the fact she might have to be turned out for the year.

“She was not a very good trainer. I had her at home and she always wanted to turn around during the mile, stop during the mile,” the trainer recalled. “My hopes for her when we went to the racetrack were not very high. My intentions were I was going to get a couple of qualifiers in her and see how she responded. There was a 90 per cent chance that she was going to go out in the field and wait until she was a three year old.”

Taking her to Hoosier Park for her first qualifier, Churita made a break for Rheinheimer early in the mile before going on to complete the circuit in 2:07.2. She had popped a splint in her front leg during the effort. After having the splint frozen, the conditioner brought her back to Hoosier Park for a second qualifying effort, where she won in 2:02.2.

“She was like a totally different horse. It was like night and day from what I had sat behind in the winter,” he offered of the change in his charge. “She showed the potential, but in her mind it was almost like it wasn’t clicking for her.”

The 2014 campaign “clicked” for Churita and her connections. After steering her to a second-place finish in her freshman debut, Rheinheimer handed the lines to Hoosier Park leading driver Trace Tetrick. The filly would win eight of her next nine starts, including seven in a row. The season was capped with an 11-length romp in the $220,000 Indiana Sires Stakes Super Final. She finished the year with $263,225 in earnings and was named divisional champion in Indiana.

As a sophomore, Churita started fast for Porter and Rheinheimer, winning her first nine starts. There was a challenge mounting, however, in the form of lightly-raced filly Hannelore Hanover. With only two starts as a freshman, the Swan For All filly improved with each start. Churita, to her credit, established a new track record of 1:54 at Hoosier Park in July 2015 before lowering the three-year-old filly mark one week later with a 1:53.4 performance.

“You could see it coming when we were racing together and Churita was still winning. You could just see every week Hannelore Hanover was getting closer and closer. You knew it was a matter of time before she took over the top spot,” Porter said of the competition between the two trotters. “It was pretty awesome to watch, though.”

Churita would race second to Hannelore Hanover in the last $75,000 Indiana Sires Stakes final leading into the $220,000 Super Final. There, she again finished second to her counterpart. The filly finished the campaign with a 14-9-4-1 record and $271,055 in purse earnings.

Making the transition to the open ranks last year, Churita proved she could hold her own against older horses. Although she only managed three wins in 22 starts (eight times she finished second), she did so against much tougher competition, and often against the boys. This season she is two-for-two for her connections, twice beating the boys. Her first time out she triumphed in the $21,000 Invitational trot at Hoosier Park in 1:53.2, one-fifth off her fastest mile. Churita’s latest effort was a 1:54.2 score in the $22,000 Open at Miami Valley. Her next start is slated to be the $100,000 Distaff at Miami Valley on May 7, where she could again face fellow Indiana-sired mare Hannelore Hanover. Last year Churita finished fifth in the event.

“She’s not the best shipper in the world. She’s very impatient. She had never been away from Hoosier Park and she tied up a little,” Rheinheimer explained of racing at Miami Valley last year. “I raced her there this week to get her on the track and into the routine. She seems a little more comfortable this year. I think that’s where age comes into it.”

Regardless of the outcome next Sunday, Churita is a special horse for both her owner and trainer. Intended for the Indiana fair circuit, the trotter has accumulated $644,692 to date, earning back her purchase price 174 times and counting. If her 48 22-13-6 record were not sterling enough, Churita has missed a check only three times in her career.

“The ride has been great. The second income is kind of nice,” Porter, who works as a courier, said with a laugh. “She loves racing. Just staying competitive is all I can ask.”

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